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Hundreds of layoffs coming as Edmonton Public School Board approves budget changes

Hundreds of education assistants let go due to Edmonton Public budget cuts
The Edmonton Public School Board has approved changes to the 2020-21 school year budget, and it includes the permanently laying off hundreds of education assistants. Tom Vernon has the details.

The chair of the Edmonton Public School board says she and public school trustees fear that budget changes approved Tuesday, which will result in hundreds of layoffs, are the beginning of tough choices they will need to make for years to come.

“The new [provincial] funding framework makes this budget very challenging,” Trisha Estabrooks told Global News. “It also makes future budgets challenging, knowing that the education budget is frozen, knowing that our growth will continue.

“This is the first of many challenging budgets for Edmonton Public [Schools].”

READ MORE: Edmonton Public School Board says changes to education funding will impact students with disabilities

The changes for next year’s budget will see more than 600 full-time school positions eliminated, including about 430 educational assistants.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced it was making changes to how schools are funded. In the past, funding was based on enrolment numbers. At the end of each September, schools would submit their enrolment numbers which would then lead to funding changes mid-year.

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READ MORE: Alberta streamlines grants, changes formula for K-12 education funding

In February, the government said that going forward, funding will be announced with the budget each March. The calculation will be based on a moving three-year average of enrolment.

Estabrooks said under the province’s new funding formula, the EPSB will receive funding for 105,000 students even though student enrolment is expected to reach about 107,000.

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, students in the province stopped physically attending schools in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The total EPSB budget after the changes were approved is about $1.19 billion.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange noted that funding for the EPSB will go up $14 million this year.

“We were looking at maintaining an $8.223-billion budget, which I have to say, is one of the best funding budgets for education across this country, and we had the input of all school divisions and the wide support of the majority of school divisions,” she said.

LaGrange made the comments at a news conference where she laid out three different scenarios for how students could return to in-person class during the 2020-21 school year.

She said she is hoping to get students back to class under as normal conditions as possible in September.

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READ MORE: Alberta aiming to get students back in classroom by Fall 2020

The government is expected to decide which scenario will be implemented by Aug. 1. Since soon after the pandemic hit Alberta, students have been learning online.

–With files from Global News’ Tom Vernon, Allison Bench and Breanna Karstens-Smith

Alberta education minister outline plans for students returning to school in September
Alberta education minister outline plans for students returning to school in September