School boards from across Alberta express concern over budget cuts

WATCH ABOVE: Provincial school trustees brought their concerns to those looking to be elected in next month’s election. Tom Vernon reports.

EDMONTON – Nineteen school districts from across the province are sharing their concerns over the potential effects of the 2015-2016 budget on education in Alberta.

Those districts represent around 65 per cent of students in the province.

In a joint statement released Monday, the districts say the government’s new fiscal strategy will have “unacceptable negative short-term and long-term consequences for students and the effective functioning of Alberta’s public education system”.

They’re calling for the province to reconsider the cuts to education, and to work with the districts on “a collaborative approach” to support students, and give boards flexibility to address their own needs.

“Specifically, the outlined framework hampers the boards’ ability to use their resources as they see fit to reduce the impact of these cuts”.

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“The effects will be different at each school how it’s felt,” according to Michael Janz, a trustee in Edmonton Public Schools. “It’s going to be challenging.”

At this point it’s not known how the changes will affect individual schools.

Mark Ramsankar, the president of the Alberta Teachers Association, says he’s received reports of classrooms with more students than desks.

“How much can a system take before it’s just not going to be able to deliver?” he asked. “My answer to that question is we won’t be able to deliver.”

It’s expected that there will be approximately 12,000 additional students in Alberta schools next year, and around 36,000 over the next three years. That growth is not accounted for in the budget, according to the school districts.

“By not funding growth, we are effectively reducing the per pupil funding for every student while increasing class sizes.”

Edmonton Catholic Schools is expecting an $18-million dollar shortfall this year.

Two-thirds of that is because of increased enrolment.

They’re especially concerned over cuts to their English as a Second Language program. ECS says around half of their new students don’t speak English as their first language.

Debbie Engel from ECS calls the situation dire.

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“It lead 19 growing school boards across Alberta to get together and ask and plead that the government reconsider funding new students.”

The president of the Alberta School Boards Association, Helen Clease, says students should not have to again bear the brunt of a drop in the price of oil.

In response, Education Minister Gordon Dirks says the school boards should tap their cash reserves to make up for the funding cuts.

Dirks says the spending cuts should be focused on administration, not the classroom.

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