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Parents concerned over looming Calgary Board of Education cuts, fee increases

Parents concerned over looming Calgary Board of Education cuts
WATCH ABOVE: Parents of students in public school are voicing their concerns as the Calgary Board of Education grapples with a multi-million dollar shortfall. Adam MacVicar reports.

Parents of students in Calgary public schools are grappling with uncertainty following a Calgary Board of Education meeting this week that discussed budget cuts and potential fee increases.

The provincial budget has left the CBE with a $32-million shortfall, which has forced the school board to come up with multiple strategies to close the financial gap.

The CBE said it needs to make up $8 million in transportation fees for the 23,000 students that take the bus to school everyday.

That means parents could be on the hook for an extra $300 per student that would take effect later this year.

“For our family budget, [it’s] the choice of being able to pay for swimming lessons or sports activities for our kids for the year or not,” Jana Cardozo said on Friday.

Cardozo has two kids enrolled in Spanish programs at two schools in the city. The possibility of a fee increase for busing has her mulling over whether or not to pull her kids from specialized programming and enrolling them in a school closer to where they live.

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“I understand the concept that we need to make some cuts to have a balanced budget — as a family budgeting, I can understand that,” Cardozo said. “But when you look at the effects it will have on your child’s classroom size and transportation for specialized programs, it’s really disheartening. That’s where they’re choosing to make the cuts.”

READ MORE: Calgary Board of Education lays out plans to deal with $32M funding gap

Six budget recommendations were presented at a board of trustees meeting Thursday night which would equate to $48 million in reductions to balance school boards’ budgets. All six take effect before the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

The recommendations include cutting funding allocated to 246 schools by $22 million. There will also be reductions in IT staff and custodians, with central and area-based staff to be redeployed to schools.

According to the CBE, there will be modest service reductions and a cut of $5 million dollars to planned capital spending.

To close the rest of the funding gap, the CBE plans to use $9 million in reserves, in addition to the $5 million in reserves that was already approved for use in 2019-20.

CBE chief financial officer Brad Grundy said the school board will try to ease the impact on classrooms, but class sizes may increase.

“We’re going to try to mitigate to the extent possible but given the magnitude, there will be teachers who are currently in the system who won’t be there in January,” Grundy said.

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“If we have fewer educators in the system, class sizes will be bigger, we know there’s already concerns around that, but that’s the reality that we’re in.”

All of the recommendations were shared with principals prior to Thursday’s meeting, and CBE administration will work with principals and education directors to determine how the budget reductions will impact the classroom.

“Just as much as trustees and the system are anxious to see what will transpire, parents are in the same boat,” CBE board of trustees chair Marilyn Dennis said. “What happens in their kids’ schools matters to them and [they] would like some answers sooner rather than later.”

READ MORE: CBE announces $32M funding shortfall in wake of 2019 Alberta budget

Cynthia Clark, a mother of two students enrolled at Collingwood Elementary School, is frustrated with how the cuts have been rolled out.

“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have staff removed from school partway through the year, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask parents to plan or budget for something at the start of the year and then having to change it partway through,” Clark said. “I think the way these cuts have come down is as irresponsible of the cuts themselves.”

Clark said her kids are fortunate due to fundraising efforts that have been underway throughout the year.

According to Clark, the parent council at her children’s school was able to raise $57,000 prior to the recent budget reductions. Clark believes that funding public education should not be a partisan issue.

“I think there’s a very strong current to undermine public education happening in Alberta right now, and I think all of us should be concerned about it, whether we use the system or not,” she said.

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Because the provincial budget wasn’t tabled until well into the start of the school year, the CBE planned its 2019-20 school year 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.

“While our government respects the autonomy of school boards to set fees based on local need and demand, it is our hope that the Calgary Board of Education continues to prioritize students and the classroom as they make their fiscal decisions,” Colin Atchison, spokesperson to Alberta’s Minister of Education, said in a written statement to Global News.

“There is no reason a school division with a $1.2-billion operating budget serving 130,000 students is unable to find efficiencies in their overhead. Albertans overwhelmingly elected our government to start living within our means — it is time for all school divisions, including CBE, to do the same.”

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An update to the board of trustees with final decisions on which teachers, support staff and services will be impacted, is expected by mid-December.