Elk Island Public Schools laying off more than 300 employees

Students will test out logging in on their devices and accessing online platforms and lessons as if they were at home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Elk Island Public Schools is the latest Alberta division to announce layoffs following changes in provincial education funding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, EIPS said it expects to temporarily lay off 189 permanent employees, and 128 hourly and short-term staff, “as a result of the recent provincial funding cuts to education for the 2019-20 school year,” a news release explained.

The temporary layoffs will take effect in May and June for most positions.

“Regardless of the position they hold, each one is unwaveringly committed to providing the best education possible in the communities we serve,” Supt. Mark Liguori said. “Unfortunately, the temporary layoffs are unavoidable as we all do our part to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.”

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On March 28, the province announced it would be redirecting $128 million initially slotted for K-12 schools to Alberta’s COVID-19 response, following the cancellation of all in-person classes on March 15.

The funding that’s being adjusted would have been used for transportation, substitute teachers and educational assistants, all of which is being reduced while in-person classes remain cancelled, a news release from the government said.

The decision on what positions will be laid off or cut will be made by individual schools, Colin Aitchison, the press secretary for the office of the minister of education, said at the time.

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For the Elk Island district, that change meant a decrease in $2.3 million for the balance of the 2019-20 school year.

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In a news release, EIPS said the board of trustees and senior administration found $1.1 million in savings from other areas but the cost savings weren’t enough to prevent layoffs entirely.

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READ MORE: Edmonton Catholic School Board to temporarily lay off more than 700 staff

The district said the positions affected include a wide range of non-teaching and support-staff groups.

“I want to assure families we will continue to do everything we can to support students through the duration of school closure,” Liguori said.

“We know this is a difficult, stressful time for everyone, and we are in this together.

“I remain hopeful we’ll see a quick end to the crisis and EIPS staff can get back to doing the jobs they love. When it’s safe to return to school, we will be ready to work closely with students to ensure all learners have the knowledge and tools they need to grow and succeed.”

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There are about 17,400 students enrolled in Elk Island Public Schools. The district has 43 schools in Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan, Vegreville, Strathcona, Lamont and Minburn counties.

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READ MORE: Alberta orders all classes cancelled, daycares closed as COVID-19 cases rise to 56 in the province

The ministry said the province’s funding decision was not taken lightly.

“The unfortunate reality is that classes are not in session as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Aitchison said in a statement to Global News Monday. “While distance learning options are being utilized to varying degrees, these do not employ the same number of workers as when schools are physically in class.

“Program Unit Funding for young students with disabilities continues to flow to school authorities, and school authorities continue to receive the necessary funding needed to support their students and families as they adjust to teacher-directed, at-home learning environments.”

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