While the province promises schools will be staffed with hundreds of additional teachers and support staff over the next school year, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and school boards say that commitment falls short.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange shared a series of funding commitments the province is making to help Alberta classrooms for the next school year, including allowing school boards to spend reserve funds to hire staff.
LaGrange celebrated that staffing projections show more than 1,600 employees will be hired across the province in the next school year, including up to 800 additional teachers and principals and 800 additional support staff.
According to the Ministry of Educationrepresenting a 2.2% increase in certified staff over the previous school year and 3.1% more teachers and classroom assistants.
All of those teaching positions will largely be covered by school boards using $88 million in reserve funds, CTV News Edmonton confirmed to the ministry.
LaGrange declined CTV News’ interview request, but her spokeswoman Erin Allin provided a statement saying that as of August 31 of last year, school boards had declared $464 million in operating reserves, or an increase of $81 million over the previous year.
“School authorities are responsible for hiring decisions,” Allin added. “We expect that many of the new employees have already been hired.”
“By the end of the 2022-23 school year, maximum set-aside operating amounts will be set for school boards,” Allin said. “To ensure that public funds go for educational purposes in the same year the funding is provided.”
For Trisha Estabrooks, president of the Edmonton Public Schools Board, that doesn’t prepare the province’s 61 districts for success.
“We are drawing from our reserves to help pay for some of the enrollment pressures that we anticipate in our schools this fall,” Estabrooks told CTV News.
ISSUE OF AUTONOMY
The president of the union representing Alberta teachers says school boards should be able to spend school reserves without government approval, calling LaGrange’s announcement a stopgap measure.
“For me, there’s no new money here,” said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. “It is money that is already used in the system.”
“We are learning that positions that were lost during the pandemic have been restored,” Schilling said. “(Using reservations) doesn’t really solve the long-term problems we see in our classrooms for our students and our teachers.”
“Councils have acquired reserves for special reasons, and now they must ask the government to use these reserves where they see fit.”
“A BROKEN FUNDING MODEL”
While Trishabrooks welcomes the flexibility of using reserve funds, she believes funding for the endowment should come directly from the province.
“We’re using reserve funds to pay for what, quite frankly, we’ve been saying for years is a flawed funding model that doesn’t adequately fund growing school divisions, like Edmonton Public,” she added. “The reserves are really for unforeseen expenses.
“We should not, as school divisions, pursue our reserves to pay for the day-to-day operations of our school divisions. This is not a sustainable way forward.”
While final counts will be settled at the end of September, Trishabrooks says EPSB estimates 107,000 children will attend one of the district’s 214 schools, a projected enrollment growth of 2.7 to 2.8. %.
“We can accommodate more children than that,” she added. “We need personnel at a level that reflects the growth of our division.”
In Wednesday’s announcement, LaGrange again announced a $7 million enrollment grant for school jurisdictions provided for in the province’s latest budget.
It will be allocated based on actual school authority enrollment, Allin explained, using three funding formulas. Separate rates will compensate school authorities for having two percent more students, between two and five percent, and growth rates above five percent.
The higher the enrollment growth, the more dollars the schools will receive, Allin added.
“(It’s) a new announcement,” Trishabrooks said. “If it’s in the fundraising manual, we’ve dissected it.”
“Any kind of extra money would be welcome,” she added. “(But) $7 million for additional funding for enrollment growth spread across 61 school divisions (in Alberta), that doesn’t go very far.”
Edmonton Public estimates that 1,700 students enrolled this year will not be funded by the province.
“It’s the size of a large high school that we don’t get funding for,” Trishabrooks added.
With files from Chelan Skulski of CTV News Edmonton