Calgary

CBE approves 2018-19 budget, but sustainable funding fears remain

Calgary Board of Education trustees approved the 2018-19 school year budget — but not without putting their fears about funding sustainability on record.

More than 100 full-time teaching positions added, 69 support positions cut

The Calgary Board of Education approved its 2018-19 budget on Tuesday. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Calgary Board of Education trustees approved next year's budget Tuesday — but not without putting their fears about funding sustainability on record. 

The approval of the $1.4-billion budget for the 2018-19 school year comes at the cost of cuts to administrative and system support jobs.

When the budget was initially announced, there was a forecasted $35.6-million budget gap, which administration worked to cover using a combination of service changes, program modifications and $2.5 million from reserve funds.

'This was not a budget I could support'

On Tuesday, the budget passed by a vote of six to one, with Ward 6 & 7 trustee Lisa Davis as the only vote against. 

She told her fellow trustees that she could not support this version of the budget because she could not see how it linked back to the board's three main goals identified in their three-year plan: improve math, improve literacy and improve outcomes for Indigenous students. 

"As we look at this budget, I struggled to see what it was that we were going to be doing differently that would move the needle on those three areas," she said. "So, based on that, I felt that this was not a budget I could support."

Ward 6 & 7 trustee Lisa Davis was the only trustee to vote against the budget. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

'Funding needs to keep pace'

Although the six other trustees voted in favour of passing the budget, they had major concerns about funding sustainability, and voiced fears over repeatedly dipping into reserves to balance the budget.

Board chair Trina Hurdman says the CBE hasn't been funded for growth and inflation since 2009.

"As most people know, in order to maintain service levels from year to year, your funding needs to keep pace with growth and inflation," she said. 

Hurdman said that although the CBE appreciates the current government's commitment to funding growth, inflationary costs are not being covered. 

"That is forcing us every single year to cut back a little bit more and more," she said. 

CBE board chair Trina Hurdman says it's becoming increasingly difficult to balance the budget without an increase in funding for inflationary costs. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Job cuts

The trustees applauded administration for finding efficiencies outside of the classroom, and budgeting for the addition of more than 100 full-time teaching positions, and 40 classroom support staff positions.

But there will still be job cuts. 

Chief financial officer Brad Grundy said the equivalent of 69 full-time service unit positions will be lost next year. 

Grundy said service units include human resources, IT, finance, communications, legal services and more. 

"Those are the impacts that are on people that are not in a classroom but make the system work," he said. 

'Support that is so important'

Lois Robb, chair of the CBE Staff Association, said the situation is difficult for the people she represents. 

The association represents support workers at the CBE, including IT staff, administrative secretaries and lunchroom supervisors, as well as professionals such as psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.

Besides the job losses, she said they're all concerned about the supports that students with complex needs will lose. 

"That support that is so important, she said. 

Grundy said they tried to maintain positions that have direct contact with students, including occupational therapy, speech pathology and mental health.

With the approval of the budget also comes a 3.9 per cent increase to noon supervision fees, which are currently $285, as well as a 4.5 per cent increase in yellow school bus transportation fees, which are currently $335.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson