Edmonton's public school board looks to save millions by cutting 5 school days next year

Families and education staff will soon hear from the Edmonton public school board about potentially cutting five school days from next year's schedule to save $2.7 million, as the board faces a provincial funding freeze.

Board will consult staff and families in coming weeks

School board chair Trisha Estabrooks says the district could save $2.7 million by cutting five days from the 2020-21 school year. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Families and education staff will soon hear from Edmonton Public Schools about potentially cutting five school days from next year's schedule to save $2.7 million, as the board faces a provincial funding freeze.

Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said Thursday the board is considering adding three professional development days for staff and adding two more non-instructional days.

"We are dealing with a frozen education budget, we are a district that continues to grow by about 3,000 students every year, so we are in a position where we have to come up with creative and innovative solutions on how we can find some efficiencies," Estabrooks said.

Reducing busing costs for extra days students aren't in school would save the board an estimated $150,000 per day, Estabrooks said.

The other $2 million in savings would come from not having to hire substitutes when regular teachers are on professional development days or off sick.

The original idea was presented earlier this month after the board asked administration to find ways to save money after provincial cuts to education spending in the October provincial budget.

At a meeting on Tuesday, trustees voted to direct administration to conduct a survey asking parents and staff how they'd like a calendar with five less school days to be structured, while maintaining education quality and overall instructional time.

That information will be brought back to the board as a recommendation report.

The survey should be available this week or next week, Estabrooks said.

To make up for the lost school days, 11 more minutes would be added to each school day, which Estabrooks said teachers have so far supported.

"Sometimes classes are digging deeper on issues or involved in a conversation, and adding that extra 11 minutes might help with learning," Estabrooks said.

She said she hopes the extra professional development time would provide more time off for teachers and more time to build their skills. She said that would be important as she expects classroom sizes to increase next year.

Stacy Jackson, who has two children at Michael Strembitsky School, said she supports the idea if it means the loss of fewer teaching and education assistant jobs.

"In eliminating those five days of school, the kids will be making up that time," Jackson said. "It's not going to affect their education. We were told three to five minutes a day is what would be added to the current schedule, so it wouldn't be a big hit."

Kate Steed, a parent of three students, said she's supportive of the public school board's idea to cut five days from the next school year. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Kate Steed, a parent who has three children in preschool, kindergarten and Grade 4, said the change could lead to some parents having to arrange and pay for five extra days of child care.

But she said she supports the idea personally and is encouraged the board is looking for creative ways to find savings while maintaining quality education.

Steed said she'd like the the board to consult with education experts about whether the added time each day would hinder young students' learning.

"I don't have that information myself about how long is too long for small children at school," she said. "Would that extra 10 minutes be a waste of time that would be better used keeping those school days where kids actually go and are fresh each day to learn?"

Estabrooks said she knows parents might be concerned about paying more for childcare, but hopes parents will understand the tough financial situation the board is in.

"I'm a parent myself, I know that it's challenging and it can be expensive to find child care. This decision is keeping in mind that we know that not every parent's going to like this idea — and I recognize that — but I just hope that parents realize that there are cost savings that will be realized as a result of this change."