Edmonton-area school boards bracing for impact of carbon tax

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WATCH ABOVE: We’re learning more about the impact the Notley government’s new carbon tax will have on Albertans. School board in Edmonton are bracing for additional costs once the tax takes effect. Julia Wong reports.

Alberta’s new carbon tax is expected to hit school boards in the pocketbook.

On Jan. 1, the cost of diesel will go up more than five cents a litre while the cost of gasoline will go up more than four cents a litre. Hikes are also expected for natural gas and propane. The tax is expected to go up again in 2018 – diesel will cost more than eight cents more per litre while gasoline will cost more than six cents more per litre.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2016: How much is this carbon tax going to cost me?

Cunningham Transport is a private contractor providing bus service for the Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton Catholic Schools, St. Albert Public Schools, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, the Francophone School District in Edmonton and the Sturgeon School Division.

Laura Doroshenko said the company has 168 buses to transport students and she estimates it will cost the company $40,000 more next year to fuel up the buses.

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“We’re just a small contractor. It’s a huge cost,” she said.

“I’m not happy about the extra costs but that’s the way it works.”

Doroshenko said she doesn’t expect the company to go bankrupt but admits it will cut into its bottom line. She said the company has had preliminary conversations with the school boards about how the extra costs will be passed onto them.

“The money is going to have to come from somewhere. It’s going to have to be ironed out,” she said.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board said the carbon tax will set transportation costs back $217,000 for the 2016-2017 school year. It cites similar numbers for the 2017-2018 school year.

Board chair Marilyn Bergstra said natural gas costs will set it back $220,000 for school year 2016-2017 and $520,000 in the 2017-2018 school year.

Bergstra admits the extra costs will result in belt tightening for the school board.

“We’ll have to adjust our budgets. I’m not sure at this point where we will find that revenue. How that will play out at this time is too early to tell,” she said.

When asked whether parents can expect to see the costs passed onto them in the form of higher school fees, Bergstra was vague.

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“It’s absolutely a possibility, yes. I wouldn’t suggest that would be our first go-to and again, budget is a very complex process,” she said.

“We have no means to raise fees other than we can take in a little bit of school fees, which we just announced we’re not going to do for the upcoming year. We’re very limited in our capacity to make adjustments. If we experience a loss here, we have to offset it somewhere else.”

READ MORE: ‘A $3B carbon tax they cannot afford’: Wildrose leader responds to Notley TV address

Bergstra said she has not spoken directly with the province about the impact of the carbon tax but said she would welcome any relief it could offer, such as rebates.

RELATED: Wildrose claims carbon tax will cost Albertans more than NDP suggests

The Edmonton Public School Board does not have any numbers yet about how the carbon tax will affect its budget.

But board chair Michael Janz said it is anticipating higher costs and it’s asking the province to chip in.

“To what extent they may be mitigated and adjustments may be given in the first year or so, we will continue those discussions,” he said.

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“We anticipate there may be steps the government could take to help us adjust and find efficiencies.”

Janz said it is too early to discuss whether costs associated with the carbon tax will be passed onto parents.

“All of our decision around school fees will be made at a future public board meeting, this includes transportation fees,” he said.

The Wildrose said the NDP needs to share the full cost of the carbon tax on the education system.

“This carbon tax will impact every school board across the province and only make things worse for families and classrooms at a time when Albertans can least afford it,” Wildrose education critic Mark Smith said in a statement.

“This is just another example of the NDP government misleading Albertans about the full costs of its carbon tax on families.”

In a statement to Global News, Education Minister David Eggen said the department will “continue working with school boards and education partners as we implement our Climate Leadership Plan.”

Despite the impact it will have on the family-run business, Doroshenko said she supports the carbon tax.

“We all have to do our part in changing how we are in terms of [being] environmentally conscious and I think this is a good step forward,” she said.
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