Edmonton Public Schools faces $17.5M cut after provincial adjustments

Edmonton Public Schools' trustees convened on Tuesday, the first meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered in-person classes and the government slashed K-12 education budgets in an unexpected weekend announcement.

Government announced $128 million reduction across school districts on Saturday

A file photo of a January Edmonton Public Schools board meeting, before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed trustees to meet by video conference. (Dave Bajer/CBC )

Edmonton Public Schools is facing a $17.5 million cut this school year after the province announced it would reduce funding for K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendent Darrel Robertson said at Tuesday's board meeting 

The meeting came three days after the Alberta government, in an unexpected weekend announcement, said it would cut base instruction grants and transportation funding for school divisions across the province by roughly $128 million as classes transition to at-home learning.

School leaders learned about the move on Saturday, the same day it was announced. 

For the second largest school district in the province, the funding decision amounts to a $13.8-million reduction to the base instruction grant and a $3.7-million cut to transportation. 

"These changes significantly impact our ability to support students, all of our students," board chair Trisha Estabrooks said at Tuesday's meeting. 

"We want to do everything we can to fight against COVID-19, but cutting jobs at this time is not the answer." 

Unions representing educational assistants and other support staff have estimated as many as 25,000 workers across Alberta will face layoffs as a result of the reduced funding for K-12 education. 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange directed the province's school boards on Saturday to immediately issue notices to educational assistants with the expectation they will be laid off by the end of April. School districts were also asked to immediately issue notices to non-essential support staff and bus drivers, while limiting the use of substitute teachers. 

But the province has since walked back some of those specific directives, said Estabrooks. Districts will be able to decide what jobs to layoff as a result of the cuts. 

"We know that we need educational assistants. Can I say with certainty which jobs will be kept and which jobs will be lost? I can't at this point," she said in an interview Tuesday. 

"We have a plan on how we're going to support students, so we need the flexibility to figure out what staff are essential to put this plan in place. But I'll be clear: we would like to keep all of our staff in place so we can fully support students as we make this monumental transition." 

The funding changes represent a 14 per cent cut to the school district's base instruction grant for May and June, as well as a 51 per cent reduction to transportation funding for the remainder of the school year. 

The board convened by video conference on Tuesday, the first meeting since in-person classes were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.