Edmonton school board to cut teachers, staff

Edmonton Public Schools will need to lay off 229 teachers to stay within its budget, school trustees say.

Province announces $550 million for new schools

Dave Colburn, chairman of the Edmonton Public Schools' board of trustees, listens to a reporter's question at a news conference Tuesday. (CBC)

Edmonton Public Schools will need to lay off 229 teachers to stay within its budget, school trustees say.

"Our board is quite concerned about the negative impact this budget will have on our students and the reality is that this budget will affect our students," board chairman Dave Colburn said Tuesday.

Board administrators are recommending the board eliminate 229 teachers and 115 non-teaching positions and make significant cuts to school spending, with even deeper cuts to central departments.

The spending cuts come in a draft budget for 2011-2012 that will be presented to the board Tuesday night. Trustees will vote on a final budget in June.

Boards across the province are dealing with cash-strapped budgets. The province increased education spending by 4.5 per cent,  but the funding barely covers a teachers' salary hike.

Edmonton Public Schools is facing a $14 million shortfall.

"The reality is that the current model of government funding will not allow our school district to keep up with inflation and the rising costs we face. This means it will be impossible for us to maintain the status quo," Colburn said.

Edmonton Public Schools had $52 million in a reserve fund in Aug. 2009. That fund is projected to be completely depleted by Aug. 2012.

Colburn said the fund was never intended to be used to make up for shortfalls in government funding. Instead, it was put in place to give the district flexibility to deal with spikes in student population or to meet higher demands for certain programs, he said.

NDP questions school announcements timing 

The warning comes on the same day the province announced $550 million to build or renovate 35 schools in the province.

The province expects the student population to soar by about 100,000 new pupils before the end of the decade.

"Education is fundamental to the future of our communities and our province," said Education Minister Dave Hancock. "With this investment, we are ensuring that our students have safe, caring, respectful and modern learning environments."

Alberta NDP MLA Rachel Notley suggested Tuesday's infrastructure announcements were timed to take attention away from the potential teacher cuts.

"It's a standard thing with this government. Build buildings but then we forget to actually pay for the work that needs to go on inside them," she said.

The province will build 22 new and replacement schools in the fastest-growing communities such as Airdrie, Beaumont and Fort McMurray and renovate 13 schools.

The schools, to be built by public-private partnerships, are expected to be open by 2014.