Calgary public school board plans to save 317 teacher jobs using maintenance funds

More than 300 teachers who were about to lose their jobs will get to keep them after all if the Calgary Board of Education goes ahead with a new plan to use infrastructure funds to rescind the layoffs.

CBE will reinstate 317 teachers whose jobs were set to end Jan. 2

More than 300 Board of Education teachers whose jobs were eliminated will be kept on after all after the public board got permission to use infrastructure funds to maintain the positions. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

More than 300 teachers who were about to lose their jobs will get to keep them after all if the Calgary Board of Education goes ahead with a new plan to use maintenance funds to rescind the layoffs.

Last month, the board announced it was eliminating 317 temporary teacher contracts, after the United Conservative Party government chopped $32 million in funding to the board.

Those contracts were to have ended as of Jan. 2, and the teachers placed on the substitute roster.

The board was given a new Budget Assumptions Report on Dec. 3 that indicates that the CBE has been given a one-time exemption to the provincial Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal (IMR) grant requirements. This would let it repurpose $15 million to pay for the affected teaching positions.

"That reallocation allows the CBE to rescind the termination notices sent to 317 teachers on temporary contracts. Those staff will return to schools for the remainder of the school year," the budget note says.

Remaining funds will be used to moderate the impact of fee increases and eliminate the need for reducing transportation service, it goes on to say.

Alberta Teachers' Association Local 38 president Bob Cocking said the last month has been an emotional roller-coaster for teachers, students and parents.

"It's wonderful news. More than anything, we are just relieved to hear that these teachers may be keeping their jobs and that their classes will go on uninterrupted," he said.

Cocking said, however, it's not a permanent reprieve as the money will keep those teachers employed only until the end of the school year. 

The CBE's plan to lay off the teachers prompted a rebuke last month from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, who accused  the public school board of "reckless" misspending and ordered an independent financial audit and governance review.

The UCP government's funding cut came even though Calgary schools already had many costs locked in since the academic year had started months earlier and even though enrolment had jumped by nearly 2,400 students from the previous year — the equivalent of four large elementary schools.

However, LaGrange said there was no reason that a board with an operating budget of $1.2 billion servicing 130,000 students should be cutting teaching positions.

In early December, the minister announced that the province's school boards would be permitted to request one-time access to funding earmarked for maintenance to support classroom and school-based staffing costs. 

A 2018 operational review of the CBE by the province — then under the previous NDP government — found the CBE had recorded $9.1 million as instructional costs rather than administrative overhead in its accounting. However, the bookkeeping error had no impact on the board's bottom line.

The review found that the CBE's funding, expenses and spending allocations were comparable to the other three metro  school boards in the province.

Although the board was found to have the highest administrative costs of the four, the CBE still fell under the 3.6 per cent of its budget it is allowed to spend on administration in line with Alberta Education guidelines.

The same provincial audit ultimately offered no recommendations on how the school board could improve its service.

With files from Rick Donkers


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