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Calgary schools preparing for expected increase in students, possible teacher loss this fall

The Calgary Board of Education says if it received the same amount of provincial funding for this coming school year, it may result in the loss of teaching jobs.
The Calgary Board of Education says if it received the same amount of provincial funding for this coming school year, it may result in the loss of teaching jobs. gettyimages.com

Calgary Board of Education (CBE) schools are preparing to cut teaching positions. Officials expect provincial funding for the 2019/2020 year won’t cover the costs of 1,800 more students entering the school system this fall, according to a board representative.

CFO Brad Grundy said the board is expecting to receive the same amount of money as last year, and considering the province has yet to release its budget, officials are making decisions based on those figures.

“In a normal year, we would have a [provincial] budget by now which would inform the budget we have to submit by the end of June,” Grundy said.

“We understand that there’s some time that’s going to take for them to land on a budget, so we’re just trying to be as prudent as possible.”

Heading into the new school year, a one-student class size increase is expected across the board, Grundy said. He added if the budget stays the same, the board could lose an estimated 220 teacher positions.

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Bob Cocking, president for Calgary Local 38 of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said that could mean one less teacher in an elementary school, the possible loss of support staff, as well as the loss of four to 10 teachers at each high school.

“In the past, they’ve never had to actually affect schools, they’ve usually found other places to cut that,” Cocking said. “This is the first time that they can recall that they’ve had to affect schools and the school budgets which is going to account to [losing] $22 million.”

Cocking added some contracts for teachers are already not being renewed and principals have had to let staff go.

‘Have some flexibility’

“What we’ve asked is to be prudent — to make sure we have some flexibility. So if what we hear from government is worse than we thought, we have some flexibility, and if it’s better than we thought, we can roll out more money to schools,” Grundy said.

The Ministry of Education said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that “Minister LaGrange has been clear that the government has committed to maintaining or increasing funding.”

“No funding decisions have been made at this point, and work continues to prepare for the provincial budget in the fall,” the statement read.

“In the meantime, the government respects the autonomy of local school boards to make spending decisions. They are in the best position to address any questions about their budgets.”

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Cocking said the lack of certainty is troubling for teachers and officials.

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“The best possible scenario is not to be left in the dark,” Cocking said. “I think currently, [it’s] just the fact that we don’t know. If we could just get our government to please say, ‘Yup, this is how much we’re going to give you per student funding,’ or ‘[We’re] going to give you this amount of money.’”

The overall CBE budget gap leaves a lack of support for special needs programs and students to receive extra help, according to Cocking.

“Again, there’s going to be that lack of relationship, lack of checking for understanding and then finding time to address the students that need the help,” Cocking said.

“We always say: teacher’s working conditions are student learning conditions. And some of that could roll over to the point where maybe the quality isn’t there because they’re dealing with other pieces.”

Both Cocking and Grundy would like to see better conversation between the board and government in hopes of achieving sustainable funding and certainty in the future.

“Funding that is there that we don’t have to guess per student. Funding that is there definitely [and] extra funding for special needs.”