School boards face budget shortfalls

The public and Catholic school boards in Edmonton are facing the prospect of staff layoffs in order to deal with multi-million dollar budget shortfalls.

The public and Catholic school boards in Edmonton are facing the prospect of staff layoffs in order to deal with multi-million-dollar budget shortfalls.

Edmonton Catholic Schools is short $9.5 million in this year's budget; the shortfall is $14 million for Edmonton Public Schools.

"I would say this is the worst budget for education and school districts in a number of years," said Dave Colburn, chairman of the Edmonton public board.

Catholic board chairwoman Debbie Engel says there's nothing left to trim in a budget made up mostly of salaries.

"There isn't a simple answer that it's all going to be okay because $9.5 million is a lot of million to make up coming on the heels of a year where you've already scraped the bottom," Engel said.

School boards across the province are dealing with cash-strapped budgets.

Catholic board chairwoman Debbie Engel says there is very little left to cut in her district's budget. (CBC)
Although education received an additional 4.5 per cent for operating expenses in this year's provincial budget, most of the increase will cover a previously negotiated 4.54 per cent bump in teachers' salaries coming Sept. 1.

The province also halved funding for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, or AISI.

Public trustees will discuss the allocation of funds to each school at Tuesday's board meeting. Principals will use those figures to determine what kind of staffing can be maintained at each school, Colburn said.

"What the actual numbers may look like in a few weeks time, we won't know until all of the principals have provided their information to us," he said.

Public board chairman Dave Colburn says the budget situation is worrisome. (CBC)
Education Minister Dave Hancock says the boards have to look "at all the corners" of their budgets to save cash, including dipping into their reserve funds.

"I don't think it's an unrealistic thing to say to school boards across the province, this is an opportunity to look at everything you're doing, and determine what needs to be done and what doesn't need to be done," Hancock said.

Hancock acknowledges that school boards will likely not be able to hire new graduates from teacher colleges this year.