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Two Lethbridge school districts terminating all educational assistants, other positions

Click to play video: 'More than $2.5M cut from Lethbridge school districts' More than $2.5M cut from Lethbridge school districts
WATCH ABOVE: Two of Lethbridge’s main school divisions announced their plans on April 3 to meet the provincial government’s request for a 14 per cent funding reduction in an effort to redirect money into COVID-19 relief. As Eloise Therien reports, educational assistants will feel the biggest impact. – Apr 3, 2020

On March 28, Jason Kenney’s government announced $128 million in funding allocated to education in Alberta would be moved to relief efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, school boards across the province are under pressure to meet a requested 14-per cent reduction and temporarily reduce staff effective April 30, while giving employees the adequate amount of notice.

Earlier this week, Red Deer School Divisions, the Medicine Hat School Division and the Prairie Rose School Division announced they wouldn’t be cutting any educational assistants for the time being.

Prairie Rose offered their educational assistants the option to take the leave, or stay and continue working for the board. According to administration, 40 out of 128 employees decided to take the time off, while the remainder wished to work.

READ MORE: Lethbridge left off list of new school projects in Alberta

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In Lethbridge, some decisions were announced Friday.

Ken Sampson, Superintendent of Schools with the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, says they didn’t have much choice when making the cuts due to a binding collective agreement with CUPE.

“I don’t think anyone in my position or a similar position would say that was a good thing,” Sampson said of the government’s decision to cut the funding, but acknowledges the need to keep Albertans safe and healthy.

“We’re looking at a very different scenario than other school divisions are,” Sampson admitted.

He adds they consider all of their employees vital to the schools they work in.

“We value them,” he said. “We believe they offer essential services, otherwise we wouldn’t have them in our employ.”

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The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division says educational assistants, including early learning educational assistants and early learning speech language assistants, will be terminated for the time being.  Other positions include child and youth care workers, library clerks, library technicians and receptionists.

The Lethbridge School Division is also letting go of educational assistants — including advanced educational assistants — as well as Learning Commons facilitators, career practitioners, administrative support and Aboriginal liaisons. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Lethbridge families prepare to bridge education gap as Alberta cancels classes

By April 30, the changes must be made in order to meet the requirements of the new funding model, according to the Government of Alberta.

“Our Division made it a priority right from the beginning of this school year to keep staff in place,” said Cheryl Gilmore, superintendent of the Lethbridge School Division.

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“We are using further reserves moving into the 2020/2021 school year, and to draw on more reserves at this point, to make up for Saturday’s $1.5 million reduction in funding, would have a significant long-term impact on the Division.”

Both of the school districts in Lethbridge say educational assistants funded under Program Unit Funding (PUF) will be temporarily terminated along with all other types of educational assistants.

Palliser School Division told Global News Friday they had not yet made any decisions, but hoped to have more information early next week.

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