Hundreds of jobs could be on the chopping block as the Calgary Board of Education grapples with an estimated $32-million shortfall for the rest of the current school year.
The CBE said Tuesday the Alberta government’s recently released budget will “significantly impact” students and their learning with the anticipated shortfall.
In the budget, the province noted the Ministry of Education would spend $8.2 billion on service in 2019-20, equal to what the former NDP government spent the year before.
However, the CBE said that enrollment is increasing by nearly 2,400 students – the equivalent of four large elementary schools.
The UCP kept the “Base + Other Funding” the same as what the NDP budgeted for the 2018-19 year, but it eliminated three grants, which the CBE said totalled $85 million — the fee replacement, classroom improvement and class-size initiative funds.
Replacing those grants are two sums of money from the provincial budget — $29 million for enrollment growth and $24 million in a “one-time transition fund.”
“While we agree that base funding per student remains unchanged, base funding only represents 66 per cent of our overall budget,” the CBE explained.
Because the provincial budget wasn’t tabled until well into the start of the school year, the CBE planned its 2019-20 schoolyear budget — which was due at the end of June — based on the expectation it would receive the same amount of money it did in the previous year, meaning they didn’t hire about 220 new staff to accommodate the growing enrollment.
The CBE said that because the $32-million budget shortfall comes in the middle of a school year where it’s been spending the same as it did last year, the impact will be “much larger.” Officials estimate $16 million has already been dolled out to various operations since September, which they now have to make up for in addition to the funding shortfall.
“We are estimating we will need to reduce spending by at least $48 million to balance our budget by the end of the school year.”
Layoffs could be coming in the new year
The CBE said learning of the shortfall mid-school year means they have to make changes “quickly,” which may be disruptive to staff, students and their families.
“All options are being explored, including larger class sizes, service cuts, staff layoffs, use of reserves and fee increases,” the CBE said.
According to CBE CFO Brad Grundy, layoffs could happen as soon as January, if that’s a savings route the board takes.
“So because the savings that we can generate from staffing are contingent upon when we do it, the longer we wait, the bigger the problem gets,” Grundy said.
“Because we are now in the midst of the school year, we can only save the portion of the salary that’s left to run in the remainder of the year. That puts us in the unenviable position to possibly have to lay off more people now to achieve the necessary savings over the remainder of the school year.”
Grundy said parents would also likely find out if fees will be going up in January.
The CBE said despite the changes, its commitment to students and a strong public education system “will not waiver.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, Ministry of Education press secretary Colin Aitchison said “a school board with a $1.2 billion budget servicing 130,000 students should be able to find efficiencies without negatively impacting the classroom.”
The ministry said Albertans and Calgarians alike should be concerned about the CBE’s fiscal record, adding the board has made “significant accounting errors, signed into a financially unsustainable 20-year lease which by the end of its terms will have cost $6 million more in rent than it would have cost to purchase the building, and often project significant deficits while ending the year with surpluses.”
“Our government expects school divisions in this province to prioritize students as they make fiscal decisions – it is time for CBE to start living within their means,” Aitchison said.
In a Tuesday news release, the Alberta NDP’s education critic said numbers from school boards like the CBE show that the provincial government is “lying to Alberta parents.”
“Premier Jason Kenney promised to fund enrollment. Well, enrollment is up and funding is down — period,” Sarah Hoffman said.
“The premier is willing to gut funding for our kids to help pay for his $4.7-billion no-jobs corporate handout.”