Alberta government wants CBE to avoid job cuts expected with proposed budget

The exterior of the Calgary Board of Education building in downtown Calgary.
The exterior of the Calgary Board of Education building in downtown Calgary. Global News

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is looking at a $35-million deficit, according to its 2017-18 budget presented to school board trustees on Tuesday. The plan to remedy the shortfall involves cuts to service unit areas and increased fees for some students, officials said.

“While the situation in our schools is reasonably stable, I feel it merits to mention that for the last two budget cycles we have leaned heavily on our service units to help close the funding gap,” chief superintendent David Stevenson said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This budget will see some staff, primarily in service units, exiting the organization.”

READ MORE: Rocky View County parents could opt to pay for transportation fees despite Bill 1

However, the Alberta government says cutting jobs shouldn’t be necessary considering the amount of funding that has been provided in recent years.

Story continues below advertisement

“Given the substantial investment we have made in the Calgary Board of Education, it is my expectation – and that of all Calgarians for that matter – that the elected board make decisions to balance their budget without impact on front-line staffing levels,” Education Minister David Eggen said in a statement to Global News.

“Claiming deficits and then banking surpluses is a recurring practice of this school board and I would encourage them to consider prioritizing classrooms with the $1.1 billion we have provided this year.”

According to the budget, 94 per cent of funding for the CBE comes from the provincial government in the form of grants. Eggen said the government has provided $18 million a year to cover the costs of reducing fees, $13 million for the Classroom Improvement Fund and over $100 million in capital investment for new and modernized schools.

In the statement, he also said the CBE has reported a surplus in each of the last three years.

When asked about negative impacts the job cuts could have on schools, the CBE said it understands this will be a loss but the board will have to learn how to operate with fewer people. It added the cuts will not directly impact classrooms.

The CBE insists all jobs lost will be from non-school based positions such as human resources, finance and technology departments.

Story continues below advertisement

It plans on adding the equivalent of 149 positions to schools as part of the classroom improvement fund. More than 100 of those positions will be for teachers and 43 are allocated to support staff aimed at making positive impacts in the classrooms, according to a CBE representative.

CBE staff association chair Lois Robb said there is no guarantee support staff in schools won’t lose their positions, adding the cuts could impact highly specialized professionals who may be unable to find work anywhere else.

“The majority of these employees work directly with students in schools, some are very specialized and come from service units and/or schools as well,” Robb said in an email.

“When employees are identified for transfer there are potential vacancies for some of them. Others who are more specialized have no opportunity unless they have other skill sets that allow them to possibly post into other positions.”

According to Robb, CBE service unit staff won’t know if they will be laid off or transferred until the first week of June.

READ MORE: Province promises new regulations will reduce school fees for Alberta parents

She said the cuts will mean a larger workload for educators and students will see a loss in supports such as ELL assistants and librarians.

Story continues below advertisement

“It takes a whole system in order to make things work for students as a whole,” Robb said.

Robb disagrees with Eggen saying despite his claims, the CBE is still lacking funds. She wants the government to look at funding in terms of the whole school system and not just the educators at the front of the classroom.

There will be the equivalent of 80 full-time positions added to accommodate the 2,000 additional students expected in the upcoming school year, according to the CBE.

The budget also outlines a proposal to continue the current full-day kindergarten program by using the $1.2 million reserve funding which has been a topic of discussion at the previous trustee meeting.

Trustees will have the opportunity to debate the budget May 22.