Edmonton Catholic Schools issues temporary layoff notices to 700 staff

The Edmonton Catholic School Division is temporarily laying off 708 staff as of April 30, the division said Thursday.

Cuts are in response to funding changes from government after classes cancelled

Edmonton Catholic Schools said Thursday it is temporarily laying off more than 700 staff in response to funding changes made by the Alberta government after classes were cancelled due to COVID-19. (CBC)

The Edmonton Catholic School Division is temporarily laying off 708 staff as of April 30, the division said Thursday.

"This is in response to the funding changes made by Alberta Education following the cancellation of classes due to COVID-19," the division said in a media statement.

The reduction amounts to $5.7 million, the division said.

Some staff at Edmonton Public Schools are likely to hear this week whether they too will be out of work. The government has told Edmonton Public to cut $14 million in spending for May and June as students learn from home.

Like other divisions across the province, Edmonton Catholic Schools was forced to lay off educational assistants, replacement staff and other staff deemed non-essential while students are out of classes, when the province sliced $128 million from the education budget in March.

At Edmonton Catholic, the 708 layoffs announced Thursday includes 90 employees funded through a federal Jordan's Principle grant that provides additional support to Indigenous students. The grant concludes at the end of April, the division said.

Catholic board chair Laura Thibert told CBC News Thursday's announcement was "extremely difficult" for the school division.

"The board is going to be expecting full funding when classes do resume," Thibert said. "This is very difficult and we do realize that our support staff are extremely valuable to the division."

When schools reopen, "they will be back," she said.

Some staff retained

Of the 708 staff being laid off, 691 are members of Unifor. Those include 479 educational assistants who have been deemed non-essential. 

Thibert said some other education assistants, who have been working one-on-one with students since classes were cancelled, are being retained.

Other positions include therapeutic assistants — behavioural therapy, speech language and occupational therapy — as well as media resources support staff, administrative support, licensed practical nurses and instructors in second language programming, Career and Technology Services and fine arts.

Seventeen other employees from the "out of scope" employee group and AUPE are also affected. Those positions include behavioural specialists, psychologists, fitness instructors and youth co-ordinators.   

"Many of these employees are the first person students see each day and they are an important part of a student's life," acting superintendent Robert Martin said in the statement.

'We are very disappointed'

Rachel Notley, leader of the Official Opposition, said Education Minister Adriana Lagrange promised last month to maintain funding while schools were closed due to COVID-19.

That changed two weeks later when Lagrange announced the $128 million in educational funding was being redirected to the pandemic response. 

Notley said educational assistants provided mental health supports for students dealing with the effects of the pandemic, she said. 

"They need that now, more than ever," Notley said. "We are very disappointed. We renew our call for the education minister to reverse this broken promise." 

Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said the government's decision to cut education funding while classes are not in session "was not taken lightly."

Funding will be restored to regular levels "when physical classes resume," Aitchison said in an email to CBC News.

"While distance learning options are being utilized to varying degrees, these do not employ the same number of workers as when schools are physically in class," he said.

With files from Lydia Neufeld and Michelle Bellefontaine


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