Calgary teacher cuts can be averted, but provincial audit, review going ahead

CALGARY — The Alberta government is moving ahead with a financial audit and governance review of the Calgary Board of Education even though it appears hundreds of teacher layoffs can be averted.

A spokesman for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the government is pleased the board is considering rescinding 317 layoff notices that were sent out last month.

But Colin Aitchison says the reversal is a clear example of the board’s failed attempt to use teachers and children’s education as political tools.

An agenda for a trustee meeting Tuesday includes an updated budget report that says a $15-million infrastructure and maintenance renewal grant can be repurposed to keep the temporary teacher jobs.

Those staff, who were weeks away from being out of work, will return to schools for the remainder of the school year.

The budget report says remaining funds can also be put toward easing fee increases and keeping transportation service levels.

“Had CBE taken Minister LaGrange up on her offer to have Alberta Education assist in finding efficiencies in their operating budget, we are certain that this could have been avoided in the first place,” Aitchison said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Instead, the board’s unnecessary actions caused significant stress on the families of the 317 teachers and their students.”

The public school board has said the United Conservative government’s inaugural budget left it with a $32-million budget gap that would mean cutting funds to 246 schools by $22 million.

Chief Supt. Christopher Usih said the board had to act quickly because the budget was reduced mid-year and several decisions are being made on how to cover the gap.

LaGrange said at the time that she made it clear she expected all school boards to minimize the impact on front-line staff and teachers, and to put students’ educational experience first. She accused the board of a ”reckless misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

“We are moving ahead with a financial and governance review of the CBE, and will have more information in the coming days,” Aitchison said Tuesday.

The board’s budget report says challenges remain.

“The CBE will continue to be constrained by climbing enrolment, lack of operating reserves, age of facilities and cuts to services provided by central service units in the 2019-20 budget year,” it said.

“Maximizing the dollars directed to the classroom to support student results remains the top priority.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 10, 2019

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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