Education cuts blasted

Class sizes will grow when per-pupil funding falls come September, say 19 Alberta school jurisdictions who joined together to sound the alarm on Monday.

Class sizes will grow when per-pupil funding falls come September, say 19 Alberta school jurisdictions who joined together to sound the alarm on Monday.

The growing jurisdictions from around the province predict short and long-term consequences for students as a result of the Prentice government’s 2015-16 budget, which provided no money for enrolment growth — about 12,000 students, according to provincial projections.

On Monday in a press release, Education Minister Gordon Dirks said the Progressive Conservative government’s expectation is for school boards to make full use of their combined reserves of $460 million if need be.

But educators say when budget was announced they were told they weren’t allowed to reduce teaching staff or use reserve funding.

“For the government to all of a sudden come down with an edict that says thou shalt do this as far your management goes, I think it really is a slap in the face to our local autonomy and locally elected officials,” said Bev Manning, board chair of Red Deer Public Schools.

“We are locally elected governors who have built confidence in our community to make these kinds of decisions. We have done a lot of work in our community to find out what’s important to them and to make some decisions on their behalf.”

Red Deer public’s $112-million budget will be cut by $2.7 million.

“I think teachers are going to find themselves with less supports in the classroom and larger classes.”

Manning said school districts do look for efficiencies just like the province and would rather have been consulted.

Her district was working on curriculum redesign to encourage students’ skill development, critical thinking and problem solving. Redesign requires a lot of effort on the part of many administrators and may not be possible if budgets continue to drop.

She said any party that wants to govern this province has to recognize that education is a priority for Alberta’s future.

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools runs a $90-million budget and will lose about $4 million in funding. That includes money that won’t be coming for 400 new students the division usually sees each year.

“We don’t discount the funding and support we receive both operationally and capital-wise. We achieve some terrific results in Alberta, some of the best in the world. But that classroom is becoming increasingly diverse. We’ve got kids at all ends of the spectrum, ESL (English as a second language) kids, kids that have different learning disabilities and challenges,” said Guy Pelletier, Red Deer Catholic board chair.

“It’s not going to get any easier. ESL is our fastest growing population.”

Educators say they will be forced to reduce support services to schools, and that will increase teacher workload and reduce the support for some of the most vulnerable students. These students will be further disadvantaged by increasing class sizes.

Pelletier said education is critical and impacts other costs to the province, like health care and law enforcement.

“If we get (education) right, as a society and a province, it should positively impact all the other budgets. If we make sure all students stay in school and achieve their potential, the impact is huge across the province.”

Dirks said school boards have been asked to find 2.7 per cent in administrative and non-teacher cost savings.

“I’ve been clear all along that school boards will be permitted to use their reserve funds if needed to meet frontline service needs in the coming fiscal year while they find savings in non-teacher costs — that is what this money is there for. These are school boards, not school banks,” Dirks said in an email.

Larry Jacobs, Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent, said clarification from the province on reserves is expected in the next 24 hours.

Wolf Creek’s reserves are mostly targeted for upgrades, like technology or buses, he said.

“We have over $4 million in reserves and the vast majority of those are set aside to look after things in the future. We have very little of what they call unallocated reserves,” Jacobs said.

Meanwhile, the jurisdiction will still get about 150 to 200 new students and no funding for them, he said.

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