As students head into the final months of the school year, Alberta school boards are having trouble preparing for next year.
On Wednesday night, an email was sent to all Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) staff notifying them of a hiring freeze.
“Due to the recent election, we are waiting for a provincial budget,” reads the email obtained by Global News. “As a result, district staffing will be suspended at this time.”
According to the email written by human resources superintendent Richard Svoboda, there won’t be changes to the staffing processes that have already happened up to this point.
“We want to make sure we staff appropriately according to the funding that’s determined, rather than over-staff and have to reduce later,” Felicia Zuniga, senior communications specialist with CSSD, said.
“We hope to resume our staffing process as soon as possible, and we hope to work with the new government to clarify our funding going forward.”
The CSSD added there will be no effect on current classroom operations because spending has been budgeted until the end of the school year.
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) wouldn’t confirm whether it is planning to freeze hiring as well.
The CBE said it is undergoing a hiring review process used as a mechanism to manage financial pressures, which includes monitoring of spending on conferences, travel and meals, as well as a review of all job postings in service units including vacancy fills.
“Our budget submission deadline has been extended to June 30 from the normal May 31 due to this year’s late provincial budget,” a board spokesperson said in a statement. “We will look to the new government for direction and guidance in following its plans for public education.”
School boards in Edmonton are also keeping an eye on the provincial budget as they think about next steps.
Edmonton boards moving ahead with budgets
Despite the funding uncertainty, the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) is moving forward with their budget, basing their figures on multiple assumptions.
“Allocations based on our current assumptions will be sent to schools and central departments on May 1, with budgets due on May 8,” read a statement to Global News from EPSB. “Once the 2019-2020 provincial budget has been released, the district’s spring proposed budget and allocations will be reviewed and updated as required.”
Edmonton’s Catholic School District (ECSD) has already begun preparing their annual budget, taking a similar approach to its public board counterpart.
“At Edmonton Catholic Schools, we are preparing our annual budget as usual and it will be brought to a public board meeting before the end of June for review and possible approval by the board of trustees,” Lori Nagy, a media relations manager with ECSD, said in a statement. “When a provincial budget is released, any necessary adjustments will be made at that time.”
Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party won a majority government Alberta’s spring election and will be forming government on April 30.
There is no word when the provincial budget will be tabled.
In its election platform, the UCP vowed to “maintain or increase education funding” while reducing administrative overhead costs and relocating resources for front-line teachers.
The party also promised to continue the construction of new schools and audit class sizes.
‘Looking at increased classroom sizes’
But the funding uncertainty and hiring freeze have raised questions among some parents, according to the Alberta School Council’s Association (ASCA).
“Parents across the province are definitely concerned when we have hiring freezes,” ASCA president Allison Pike, said.
The ASCA is a non-profit organization that works with school councils and parents to enhance student learning.
“We’re worried and concerned of what the cuts are going to be to the classrooms, what the class sizes are going to be and the supports we potentially may not see there for the students that really do need the supports,” Pike said.
The Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) said it’s disappointed with the hiring freeze at the Calgary Catholic board.
According to ATA President Greg Jeffery, teachers looking to change positions or move into full-time roles will feel the effects of a freeze.
Jeffery said the large group of graduating post-secondary students looking to enter the education field could also be impacted.
“They’re coming out of university with great numbers of them carrying substantial student debt that they’d like to get to work on,” he said. “But to do that, one requires a job, so I’m certain they’re waiting on pins and needles.”
While there is no indication the incoming government would cut funding for education, the ATA remains concerned.
According to internal polling done by the ATA, classroom sizes was the number one concern for Alberta teachers heading into the 2019 provincial election.
Jeffery believes even if the government maintains funding, it will be challenging to find classroom space for the incoming 15,000 new students per year.
“If we’re just maintaining, and you’ve got a group of students the size of the Saddledome coming in without teachers in front of them, you’re going to be looking at increased classroom sizes,” Jeffery said.
The UCP refused Global News’ request for comment on Wednesday.