Alberta Education minister scolds school board for threatening kindergarten cuts

Alberta's education minister is calling on the Calgary Board of Education to balance its budget without cutting services to students, as the school board says it may only have the money to offer full-day kindergarten in 10 schools.

Calgary Board of Education says it may make 'heartbreaking' decision to cut classes

The Calgary Board of Education plans to offer fewer kindergarten classes in the 2018-19 school year in order to save money. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

Alberta's education minister is calling on the Calgary Board of Education to balance its budget without cutting services to students.

The school board says it must seriously consider cutting several full-day kindergarten programs in order to help make up an estimated a $35.6-million shortfall for the 2018-19 school year.

The board's provincial funding is appropriate for its enrolment increases, counters Education Minister David Eggen.

"I expect the CBE to balance its budget without impacting front-line staffing levels or classroom conditions — and I have sent a letter to the board today outlining these expectations," Eggen said Thursday in a statement.

Education Minister David Eggen has instructed Calgary Board of Education to balance its budget with existing funding and without cutting back services to students. (CBC)

The minister pointed to a recent audit of the school board that revealed the board has commonly issued "premature warnings of budget deficits" but then posts surpluses.

Along with under-budgeting revenues, CBE was found to have filed administrative expenses under instructional costs.

But school board chairperson Trina Hurdman says expenses are rising faster than funding.

Teacher salaries are higher, new schools have higher operating costs and fees charged to parents are capped.

'Heartbreaking decision'

The board has been "really looking in every nook and cranny" for savings, she said, including offering full-day kindergarten in only 10 elementary schools.

The board has 15 schools listed as offering full-day kindergarten this school year. The proposed cut would mean removing the program from five schools for 2018-19.

"I wish it was something we didn't have to do," Hurdman told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"These are heartbreaking decisions that we have to make in education when we're facing these budgetary challenges, because we know that for so many students, full-day kindergarten would set them up for future success."

Hurdman did not have a list of which schools are proposed to no longer offer full-day kindergarten for September 2018.

In order to maintain existing programs, the school board said in its budget report that it would need a 4.1 per cent increase to instructional funding from the Alberta government.

Trina Hurdman is the chairperson for the Calgary Board of Education. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

The board will decide which schools will keep full-day kindergarten based on community need.

Board staff look at census and Statistics Canada data to determine the neighbourhoods' demographics, looking for large groups of students considered "at-risk." Those students would benefit the most from entering school early, Hurdman said.

"That might change from year to year, and so we'll just take the 10 schools that we have determined need it most," she said.

Fewer Calgary children will be able to attend full-day kindergarten next year, the Calgary Board of Education says. (CBC)

In Alberta, children must begin school by age six but parents can choose to send them to part-time or full-time kindergarten, where available, at age four. That starting aged will be limited to age five in 2020.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.