Calgary

CBE braces for impacts of COVID-19 on tight budget

The Calgary Board of Education's government grants will rise by $20.6 million next school year, but uncertainty around the financial impacts of COVID-19 mean tough decision are ahead.

The province is not providing any specific, or targeted funding for COVID-19 related costs

The Calgary Board of Education's provincial grant has increased by $20-million since last budget cycle. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education's government grants will rise by $20.6 million next school year, but uncertainty around the financial impacts of COVID-19 means tough decisions are ahead.

The district's provincial funding has gone from approximately $1,146,343,000 last school year, to $1,166,954,081 this school year. This is the first CBE budget under the province's new funding and assurance model.

Board chair Marilyn Dennis says while any increase is welcome, it doesn't bring the CBE back up to 2018-19 funding levels.

"And if you compare enrolment numbers from 2018-19 to 2020-21, we're looking at an increase of approximately 54-hundred students and then also opening three new schools this year, providing construction can get underway and be on schedule," she said.

"So certainly more money than last year, [but] less money than two years ago and more students. So it does mean less dollars per student."

Boards across the province have also been told that there is no specific or targeted funding coming from the province to go toward COVID-19 and school re-entry, so they must use their existing budgets to address any challenges.

"When you look at budgets we can look at it similar to what happens in our own household budgets. Every decision has an impact on another," said Dennis. 

"If we spend money on one thing we don't have money to spend on something else....And if schools are needing to spend resources on items related to their re-entry plan to ensure safety around COVID, then they won't have those funds to use on something else."

CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis said 2020-21 funding is still less than 2018-19, which means there are less dollars per-student. (CBC)

Education minister Adriana LaGrange said school boards have flexibility within their budgets to cover COVID-19 related costs.

"I've also approved the use of school board reserves if needed to help cover local COVID-19 related costs," she said.

The CBE currently has more than $14 million in reserves, which the board considers modest — which means it could have a hard time responding to any other big challenges that may arise.

"The modest balances of operating and capital reserves levels limit the CBE's ability to respond to any significant changes for the 2020-21 budget year," budget documents read, adding that the budget was not prepared assuming there would be a continuing impact from COVID-19.

"The CBE maintains modest operating reserves to address, in part, any unanticipated cost arising from COVID-19 or other unanticipated risks. Larger costs, if any, to address health and safety directions related to COVID-19 will necessitate discussion with Alberta Education."

School boards are also still in recovery mode from cuts to their budgets made in May, and redirected by the province to the pandemic response.

"We did need to release some staff. We're hoping to welcome back as many staff as we possibly can," said Dennis, adding the school board will need to live within its means.

"We need to provide services to students and resource schools all within an existing funding envelope."

Dennis said most staffing decisions would be made by mid-August.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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