EPSB lengthens school days

Edmonton Public School Board meetings at the Centre for Education at 1 Kingsway Avenue NW. on January 14, 2020, Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Shaughn Butts / Postmedia

Edmonton Public Schools will collect and publicly report 2019-20 class-size data after the province removed this requirement for school districts across the province in October, the board decided on Tuesday.

It is also considering condensing the next academic year by one day in order to save an estimated nearly $3 million in the wake of a provincial education budget that sees K to 12 funding frozen until 2022, but there is no immediate timeline on when a decision will be made.

The board voted 6-3 to approve reporting on class sizes this year, as it had the 15 previous years.

Trustee Michael Janz in Tuesday’s meeting that without this data, it will be impossible to measure the impacts of cuts to targeted funding to keep class sizes low in October’s budget.

“I’m hoping that by passing this motion … at least we can communicate the impact (of funding cuts) to our jurisdiction,” he said.

His original motion was amended to include future talks on how to best include necessary context on class composition — including number of English language learners and students with special needs — alongside classroom size.

Janz stressed this was not a partisan motion but an essential part of standing up for students and families.

“What is not measured in reporting becomes invisible,” added trustee Bridget Stirling.

Saved by the bell

Under a condensed calendar, the board heard, mandated instructional hours — 950 per year for K to 9 students and 1,000 for Grades 10 to 12 — could be condensed into five fewer teaching days by adding less than around 11 minutes to each school day.

Three would be professional development (PD) days for educators and two would be non-instructional days.

The change would allow estimated savings of $2 million in substitute staffing costs for teachers’ PD days that take place during instructional time, and at least a $750,000 reduction in busing staff and fuel costs for those five days.

“We’re in a tight financial situation where everything has to be on the table,” said board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks.

Trustees expressed concerns on Tuesday that low-income parents may not be able to afford childcare or day-camps for their children on extra days off.

“If any action is taken on this, of course, we need to consult with parents,” said Estabrooks, noting there would be ample warning given if changes are made. “I understand the implications of that and what that means in terms of child care.”

EPSB depleted most of its reserve funding in November, spending $80.5 million to continue operations for the 2019-20 school year after October’s budget eliminated three major school grants. The district still estimates a shortfall of $34.4 million this school year.

A new provincial funding model for education is set to be introduced in Budget 2020 this spring.