Calgary Board of Education forecasts $46.8M in additional costs due to COVID-19

A photo taken inside Sister Annata Brockman Catholic School in Edmonton on Sept. 2, 2020.
A photo taken inside Sister Annata Brockman Catholic School in Edmonton on Sept. 2, 2020. Global News file

The Calgary Board of Education says it has a better idea of the price tag for the multitude of COVID-19 protocols in schools, and remains optimistic the costs will be offset through funding from the federal government.

In an update provided to the CBE Board of Trustees on Tuesday, school board officials revealed a financial impact of $46.8 million; an increase of three per cent to the board’s total annual expenditures.

“These costs relate directly to staffing, cleaning and safety measures required for the safe operations of CBE schools and the online HUB delivery model,” CBE chief superintendent Christopher Usih said in a statement.

The board said $44.4 million in federal funding would be used to offset the majority of the costs incurred, which would leave a financial gap of $2.3 million heading into the next budget cycle.

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According to the report, the costs are manageable in light of the federal funding, but the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic could dramatically change the costs over a short period of time.

“With the current infection rates across the city and indeed across the province, it is likely the cost of keeping CBE schools safe for students and staff will increase over time,” board CFO Brad Grundy said.

The largest portion of the increased costs –$21 million — was spent on the HUB Online Learning platform and the additional 170 certificated staff and educational assistants hired to address the program’s 18,000 enrolled students, as well as provisions in case the program needed to be expanded.

The second-largest expenditure — $10.5 million — was allocated for cleaning supplies like hand soap and sanitizer, antiseptic wipes and equipment like electrostatic cleaners, hand sanitizer dispensers and Plexiglas barriers. According to the report, some personal protective equipment is also included in these costs like masks, gloves and face shields.

The school board received $1.4 million in PPE from the provincial government prior to the school year. Despite that, the school board stocked up on PPE before that announcement, and the equipment and 80,000 litres of hand sanitizer are still being distributed.

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“This is all very new,” CBE facilities and environmental services superintendent Dany Breton said.

“We’re sort of learning as we go in terms of just how much we’re going to need and can’t really say at this point in time whether the first two months of use will actually be representative of the next two months, especially with the changing seasons and increase in colds.”

As many as 240 more cleaning staff were hired at a cost of $7.1 million to help schools meet the cleaning and sanitary guidelines laid out by Alberta Health Services and the province’s chief medical officer of health.

The CBE report said $3.8 million is allocated for substitute teachers to cover for teachers forced to quarantine due to COVID-19, as well as an additional $1.39 million for sick costs for non-certificated staff.

According to school board officials, substitute teacher calls in the first 50 days of the school year has been on par with last year, however, there are 25 substitute teacher jobs going unfilled nearly everyday.

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An additional $2 million went to capital equipment and another $900,000 was administered to transportation service providers for additional resources to clean the fleet of school busses.

According to the school board, the financial gap of more than $2 million will be addressed by funding already received for the 2020-21 school year.

“We will achieve this through a continuation of the prudent approach to spending that we rolled out for 2019-20,” Usih said.

An update to the cost projections is expected in late January to include the potential impacts of the holiday season and any further information on the progress of the pandemic.

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