Calgary

Calgary parents asked: Would you rather your kids lose a gym teacher or see class sizes swell?

Some Calgary schools are sending out emails, letters and surveys to parents to ask them which teaching positions are most expendable as they plan for a leaner budget in the upcoming school year.

Education advocate says parents are in a tough spot and don't know what to pick

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the new UCP government will 'maintain or increase educational funding' but Brad Grundy, chief financial officer with the Calgary Board of Education, says status-quo funding will mean a $40M shortfall due to increased enrolment. (Left: Government of Alberta, right: CBC)

Calgary parents are being asked whether their kids' schools should lose gym teachers, music teachers or other support staff, or allow class sizes to swell.

The questions, through letters, emails and surveys, come from principals looking for input as the Calgary Board of Education faces what it expects to be a $40-million shortfall for the 2019-20 school year, based on the presumption that the newly elected UCP government won't boost education funding to match enrolment growth.

"People are shocked that they have to make these concessions," said Barb Silva, one of the co-founders of Support our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy group.

"Every parent has said to me, 'How am I supposed to choose a resource teacher over a music teacher?'"

Silva posted a survey given to parents at Marion Carson Elementary School in northwest Calgary on the Support Our Students Facebook page.

She knows of another school in the city's southwest that sent out letters to parents, and other schools that have asked parents to attend meetings to discuss ways to reduce school costs.

Part of the survey sent out to parents of children attending Marion Carson elementary school, asking them to help decide which teachers or services to cut. (Submitted)

The UCP won't be releasing its first budget until the fall. Yet, the government continues to face many questions about how it will deal with increasing enrolment in Alberta schools.

"We've been very consistent  to say that we are going to maintain or increase educational funding," Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Wednesday at the legislature.

The CBE's chief financial officer, Brad Grundy, said in non-election years, the provincial government would have already unveiled the education budget, but because school jurisdictions must wait until fall to find out what they will be receiving, the CBE is being cautious and asking all schools to make cuts.

"Now principals will likely make a range of different decisions, so there will be impacts on support staff and teachers, so the actual number of staff impacted I don't know at this point in time, assuming our prudent approach is accurate," he said.

'Help me understand what's important'

Based on that prudent approach, he added, the CBE needs to cut the equivalent of 220 teachers and, if they were all let go, the average class size would grow by one student across the system. But Grundy said principals could make other choices, too.

"Which is the reason why that William Reid principal sent the communication out to parents," he said. "It's to help me understand what's important to you in this context."

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman held a press conference where she read that letter from the principal of William Reid School.

"The letter says that 'every school in CBE is faced with making difficult decisions,'" Hoffman said Wednesday.

"It goes on to say that William Reid School is expected to see a 5.7-per-cent reduction, meaning it will 'lose one full-time teaching equivalent, which is significant.'"

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman, seen here in a file photo, says 'no parent should be going through' what Calgary parents are now going through. (CBC)

"I think this is something that no school or no parent should be going through and I think this is a clear example of more things to come," Hoffman added.

Grundy said parents will have until June 3 to offer suggestions on their spending priorities.

The budget itself will go to the board on June 18 for first reading and then back to the board on June 25 for approval, prior to submission to the province by June 30.

Grundy said if the province ends up providing more money than the board expected, the CBE can then readjust its budget, but stresses that won't happen until after the next school year starts.

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