ATA News

Layoffs loom as school boards face budget cuts

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One-third of Alberta school boards are expecting to reduce teaching positions in September, despite an overall 4.4 per cent increase to education in the provincial budget. As Alberta school divisions pass budgets for the next school year, even the boards that are hiring teachers expect class sizes will grow. 

Red Deer Catholic Schools (RDCSD) is set to cut 16 per cent of its teaching staff, equivalent to 90.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The board will run a $4.2 million deficit, despite an increase in provincial funding of just over $2 million, using reserves to cover the deficit. They say their reserves will now be drained to the minimum allowable level set by the province.

“Given the current funding framework and inflationary pressures, we are no longer able to maintain the types of support that have historically been provided in their current form and focus, particularly if they are outside our instructional mandate,” says RDCSD Board chair Murray Hollman.

Sturgeon Public Schools is expecting a one per cent increase in enrolment despite seeing their funding drop by 0.8 per cent next year. Sturgeon is expecting to layoff 43 of its 344 FTE teachers. Meanwhile, Medicine Hat Public School Division (MHPSD) is receiving about a million dollars less in provincial funding compared to last school year. The reduction is largely because funding for the shared Coulee Collegiate school will now be routed through another school division, but they are still facing a tight budget, expecting to reduce staff FTEs by 11.8 teachers.

“With no increase in per-student instruction grants, reductions to other grants and rising financial pressures, we have less funding per student next year than this. This makes it challenging to keep up with increasing operational costs,” said Catherine Wilson, MHPSD Board Chair.

Larger growing school boards also face budget challenges

The Edmonton Public School Board will be taking $16.5 million from reserves to balance their budget. They say they are only able to create 4 new teaching positions at a time when 6,000 students are being added.

“We really do need a solution to a funding formula into the future because we are running out of surplus to sort of smooth over the bumps,” said EPSB superintendent Darrel Robertson.

Provincial grant rates will remain static for the next school year, but school divisions are facing rising costs. Numerous school boards have cited utilities, insurance and employee benefits as some of the biggest drivers. 

ATA president Jason Schilling says there is no excuse for these cuts. 

“This is a wealthy, growing province,” Schilling said. “Year after year after year, school board funding has failed to keep up with inflation and enrolment growth and, as a result, we now have the lowest per-pupil spending on education in all of Canada.”

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said Alberta’s population grew by 200,000 people last year, representing the largest annual increase in decades.

“We are seeing a record number of families move to the province, because they want to be part of the Alberta Advantage,” said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides in a written statement to the ATA News. “We’re stepping up and investing more in education to help accommodate this growth. Over the next three years, we have planned to invest more than $1.2 billion to address classroom complexity, which will go directly to hiring 3,000 more teachers and other educational staff.”

School jurisdiction funding profiles from Alberta Education show that 13 school divisions are facing a funding cut for next school year, while 10 more will receive small increases of under one per cent. Across the province, board funding will increase $250 million (3.4 per cent) while enrolment is projected to increase 3.6 per cent.

Calgary Catholic School Division (CCSD) is expecting an increase in enrolment of more than 2,000 students (3.3 per cent), but says the province’s Weighted Moving Average (WMA) will leave 1,562 students unfunded.

“The level of funding provided by the province falls substantially short of meeting the needs of our students,” says CCSD Board chair Shannon Cook. 

Edmonton Catholic also reports around 2,000 students unfunded for next year due to the WMA.

“The Weighted Moving Average has proven disastrous for education funding,” says Schilling. “We’ve had years of rapid enrolment growth and insufficient funding. When adjusted for inflation, per-pupil education spending will be down 13 per cent provincewide, compared to 2019.” 

Schilling says he has doubts the minister’s pledge of 3,000 additional education workers over the next three years will be achieved with so many school divisions reducing positions and constraining hiring. But Nicolaides points to $263 million in new funding to school boards this year, along with 43 new school projects that are projected to add 35,000 student spaces.

The student population is projected to rise by over 50,000 students this year and next year combined.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is expecting to hire 655 more education workers, including teachers and support staff, but expects class sizes to grow next year, as the new workers will not keep up with enrolment growth. 

Space crunch expected to worsen

CBE facilities superintendent Dany Breton says space is an issue, as some schools are approaching 120 per cent capacity.

“And what does that look like? It looks like common areas needing to be converted to classroom spaces, but that comes with a bill, through reduced program richness and variety in our schools, because those common spaces are no longer available for everyone.”

Foothills Composite High School in Okotoks is already at 120 per cent capacity. They’ve received an announcement about design funding for a new high school, but a school opening is still many years away. Despite Okotoks being a rapidly growing community, Foothills School Division is getting about half a million dollars less in provincial funding next year, as student population across the school division is expected to fall by 164 students. They will be looking to cut $1.4 million from their budget for teachers.

Alberta school boards had to submit 2024–25 budgets to the minister of education by May 31, and those budgets are subject to his approval. ❚

At least 22 school divisions projecting teacher cuts
School divisions projecting teacher position cuts*Budgeted cut in teacher FTEs
Red Deer Catholic90.6
Elk Island Public12.2
Medicine Hat Public11.8
Buffalo Trail11.4
St Paul11.0
Aspen View10.4
Battle River8.6
St Albert Public6.0
Peace Wapiti5.3
Pembina Hills4.1
Black Gold4.0
Wild Rose3.3
Fort Vermilion2.7
High Prairie2.5
Chinook’s Edge2.0
Northern Gateway1.0

Bolded divisions are budgeting for increased student enrolment
*Based on a scan of publicly posted budgets for 2024-25
**Estimate based on publicly available information

Winners and losers in provincial funding

Boards receiving largest reductions

School divisionFunding cutPercentage
Living Waters Catholic Separate-$504,056-2.2%
Aspen View-$646,458-1.7%
Medicine Hat Public-$1,045,675-1.4%
Holy Family Catholic Separate-$221,112-0.9%

Boards receiving largest increases

School divisionFunding increasePercentage
Edmonton Public$51,133,9774.6%
Greater North Central Francophone$2,780,7074.6%
Edmonton Catholic$25,980,1645.6%
Calgary Public$85,175,6896.5%
Fort McMurray Public$6,014,7996.8%
Jonathan Teghtmeyer
Jonathan Teghtmeyer

ATA News Editor-In-Chief