Teacher job cuts, class size growth predicted by board

Grappling with a nearly $1-million shortfall, the York Public School District is forecasting teacher job cuts and growing class sizes unless the province provides more money.
“We’re looking to see what’s on the horizon, and it looks bleak,” said school board chair Cindy Jefferies, who called a press conference Wednesday to sound the alarm for education.
Jefferies said York residents should know the school district was already forced to freeze eight teaching positions, cut $300,000 from classroom resources, and defer maintenance projects to get by in the current fiscal year.
Without additional provincial dollars for the coming year, Jefferies warned York public schools will likely face a deficit, necessitating further staff cuts and growing teacher-student ratios.
“This year’s shortfall has had a major impact, and next year’s will be even greater, unless more government funding is provided,” she said. “It’s a terrible shame that this province, with all its wealth, cannot seem to find adequate funding for the education of our children.”
Jefferies couldn’t say how many teaching jobs would be lost in the coming year, since this will depend partly on the amount the district will receive for per student government grants. She did admit it would be more than the eight teaching positions previously frozen.
Classrooms could also lose more than the $300,000 of library books, or other resources already cut, Jefferies added. Computer lab renovations are among the school maintenance projects that were put on hold. More deferrals will have a domino effect, compounding future costs, said associate superintendent Deb Beck.
The public district, with 9,500 students, is working with a total budget of $67 million. Alberta Learning Minister Lyle Oberg suggested that provincial school boards have about 18 per cent more funding to work with than in 1995 — enough to cover higher teaching salaries and other costs.
But public schools trustee Bill Stuebing doesn’t know how the learning minister did the math.
Stuebing refers to calculations from University of Calgary chartered accountant Dean Neu, which show in real dollars funding over this period actually declined by 17 per cent.
The province also claims there’s no extra money for education. However, Stuebing said its own figures show Alberta has no debt and an 8.2 per cent surplus as a percentage of gross domestic product.
“It seems to be a triumph of ideology over fact,” added Stuebing, who noted there’s no mystery to how the district’s current shortfall has added up.
• Some $431,000 was lost because of a change in the way the province funds Grade 10 students.
• Operation and maintenance grants from the province were increased by less than one per cent, instead of the expected three per cent, resulting in a $135,000 shortfall.
• About $363,00 more is needed to cover teachers’ salary increases, necessitated by last year’s salary arbitration award to teachers in the province.
The public district settled a two-year agreement that gave local teachers about 11.5 per cent. But the second year of the deal hinges on the average settlement among 25 other school jurisdictions, which are receiving more than 14 per cent. This is forcing additional salary costs.
“We did what the province asked us to do when we settled with the teachers, and look where we are now,” said Stuebing. He added the province only directly funded a six per cent salary increase.
School districts did receive other discretionary funds over the year, but were told they could use this money to reduce class sizes or to buy textbooks.
York public is following the lead of the Edmonton public district by publicizing its projected funding problems to make city residents aware, said Jefferies, who hopes this will pressure the government to increase education spending.