CBE looks to use up to $14M from operating reserves to cover pandemic expenses
In order to access reserve funding the CBE must seek approval from the education minister
The Calgary Board of Education is seeking approval from the education minister to use $14 million of its operating reserves to fund the cost of COVID-19 expenses this school year.
The funds would be used toward the forecasted expenses of things like temporary cleaners and custodial overtime, substitute teachers, enhanced air filtration and remote work supports, according to chief financial officer, Brad Grundy.
"Should actual costs exceed this forecast, [then] CBE administration may return with an additional request at a later date. Should actual cost be less than this forecast [then] CBE administration will only withdraw sufficient reserves up to $14 million to meet the need," he said at Tuesday's public board meeting.
'The full impact has been a surprise'
Wards 11 and 13 trustee Nancy Close says it isn't a surprise the school board isn't able to absorb the incremental costs of the ongoing pandemic.
"The full impact of Omicron and student and staff absences has been a surprise," she said.
"I think of [reserves] personally as a buffer to protect disruptions to classroom learning, and typically variances can be accommodated within a budget. But when they can't be, it's more than prudent to have reserves to access."
Wards 5 and 10 trustee, Marilyn Dennis said the use of these reserves support the CBE's goal of protecting in-person learning as much as possible.
"The cost of COVID continues to be very high. Our priority continues to be to protect in-person learning by having protocols in place and in many cases exceeding the protocols that have been recommended by government and also taking measures in our schools to make them as clean and as healthy as possible for our students," she said.
"In addition, our commitment to in-person learning has been demonstrated by the redeployment of staff into schools where existing staff have fallen ill and aren't able to be at work."
Grundy says the $14 million represents administrations "best guess" at the total cost of COVID-19 expenses for the remainder of this school year.
"Based on the information we have available to us, we think it's pretty solid. But this pandemic has thrown us a few wrenches previously. We may see more of those," he said.
"Depending on which way that goes, we may either be coming back for an additional request later in the year, or we'll have some dollars that we can leave in the operating reserves because actual costs have come down some."
If education minister Adriana LaGrange approves the use of the money, the CBE would have $24 million left in its operating reserves — which is below the recommended three per cent of expenditures.
"Assuming the wind down of the global pandemic, CBE administration would look to replenish these funds to return operating reserves to the three per cent target level over the next three years," said Grundy.