‘We’re one of the losers’: Alberta rural school division pens letter over UCP education cuts

Alberta premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education after being is sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

A rural Alberta school board has penned a letter to the UCP government that calls its education budget changes “draconian.”

“In our opinion, being a rural school division, we’re one of the losers,” said Terry Jewell, chair of Sturgeon Public Schools, which operates 17 schools in an area north of Edmonton. 

In its 2019 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. But it also eliminated three grants— the fee replacement, classroom improvement and class-size initiative funds.

Jewell wrote the letter to Alberta’s education minister Adriana LaGrange, where he said that the UCP changes do not reflect the education promises it made leading up to the election.

“Several significant changes arising from the 2019 provincial budget far exceed that which our rural division can bear,” the letter reads.

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“These changes include: the loss of $2.6 million of Class Size Initiative Funding that we used to support our kindergarten to Grade 3 students; the loss of the $632,487 Fees Grant; and the changes to Tier 2 and Tier 3 CEUs,” it read.

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Jewell told Global News that he believes rural divisions especially rely heavily on government funding and at this point, the only option will be to cut staff.

“We have very small reserves, we have no ability to raise income… The only way school divisions can adjust budgets as a rule, is to adjust staff,” Jewell said.

LaGrange insisted that the government has “re-purposed” the grants that the school division lost, and that students are still being funded at the same rates.

“The fact of the matter is we’re funding every single student at the same rate we were funding last year,” LaGrange said Wednesday.

“Overall, my funding envelope is exactly the same.”

However, in the letter, Sturgeon Public Schools says that it will be losing a total of $3.3 million in grant money.

“On a $71-million budget, (that’s), in our opinion, draconian,” said Jewell.

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“At the end of the day, the people who are going to get hurt by this are the kids.”

The Sturgeon Public School Division says it will be receiving a $1.7-million Transition Grant from the government this year, but very few of those dollars will go to support students after its property insurance rates were recently raised “in-year” to $1.4 million.

Other school divisions have also come forward with major concerns over changes in funding following the provincial budget. The Calgary School Board said Tuesday that it expects to cut “hundreds” of jobs to make up for the shortfall.

Jewell said that he believes his school division will likely be raising fees to families following the changes.

“Part of our funding was to not charge for bus rides, not charges for students fees in the school,” he said. “The hard part for us is we have no way to raise money.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Public School Board chair discusses how UCP budget will affect education'
Edmonton Public School Board chair discusses how UCP budget will affect education

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