The Edmonton Public School Board has told principals to prepare to cut their schools’ budgets between five and nine per cent next year amid uncertainty around further provincial funding reductions and a new education funding framework in the upcoming provincial budget, board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks told Postmedia on Tuesday.
“We’re trying to prepare as best we can, but we know that tough times are coming,” she said from McCauley Chambers at the Centre for Education on Tuesday. “We’re in tough times now.”
October’s provincial budget saw education funding remain stagnant despite aging buildings and a growing student population in Edmonton and across the province.
The NDP estimates school districts in Alberta received $210 million less in funding in October’s budget than they planned for when they submitted their budgets to the minister of education in June 2019.
Edmonton Public Schools depleted most of its funding reserves — a total of $80.5 million — in November to cover a reduction in three funding streams under October’s provincial budget, which were partially offset by a one-time transition grant from the province.
But the district still faces a $34.4 million shortfall this year, which Estabrooks says could grow by an additional $66.5 million after the next provincial budget expected in March.
“I have no doubt that the impact of a frozen education budget will be felt in our classrooms next year,” said Estabrooks, noting that this could mean fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and eliminating some supports for students with special needs.
The direction is intended to help schools plan for “the new reality” of education funding in the province as the district expects to welcome 3,000 new students next year.
“We don’t want to be in a position where it’s chaotic,” she said. “And so the more planning that our district leaders can do up front, I think the better for our jurisdiction.”
Principals know where best to cut to limit the impact on students, Estabrooks added, noting the unique conditions of each school will be considered when allocating savings targets.
“There are schools within our city that serve really vulnerable student populations,” she said. “And so a cut to a school like that looks different than a cut to another school in our city.”
Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said Tuesday no budget decisions have been made and the new funding framework for the 2020-21 year is still being reviewed.
“It would be premature for any board to assume 2020-2021 budget impacts,” said Aitchison in an emailed statement to Postmedia. “The goal with this new framework is to better manage system growth, ensure funds are directed to the classroom, and to provide all boards with sustainable and predictable funding for the years to come.”
Estabrooks noted the uncertainty around funding makes it necessary to formulate contingency plans for every scenario.
“There’s a lot of unknowns right now,” she said. “But the education minister has been very clear, there’s no new money for education.”
“And so we’ve heard that and we have to organize accordingly.”