Edmonton public school board vice-chairwoman Bridget Stirling said the lack of information available for the board to plan its 2019-20 budget is provoking anxiety.
Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Edmonton Public Schools will see a jump in the number of teachers and school support staff to educate the more than 3,200 students expected to enrol next fall.Although the board’s $1.216-billion budget, approved Tuesday, predicts a net gain of 134 teaching positions by September, 50 short-term maintenance worker jobs will end and nearly nine other professional positions will be gone.Uncertainty about how much funding school boards will receive in the delayed fall provincial budget has prompted Edmonton public to put off plans to invest in software and spruce up school entrances and replace carpets.Trustee Bridget Stirling said crafting a billion-dollar budget based on best guesses from government messages feels “terribly unstable,” and keeps her up at night.“I find myself today extremely nervous, anxious, pessimistic,” Stirling said at the board’s Tuesday meeting. “I’m very worried about what this fall could look like.”The board agreed to pull $4.9-million out of reserves to balance its 2019-20 budget. Almost half of its deficit is a shortfall in funding for student transportation — even though bus fees are going up by five per cent in September.The district expects to spend about 1.4 per cent more than it budgeted to in the 2018-19 school year.Assumptions a riskThey budget assumes the new government will not continue the NDP’s classroom improvement fund (CIF), which was introduced in 2017 to better working conditions for Alberta teachers. Although the government’s commitment to fund enrolment growth would give Edmonton public an estimated $31.3-million more to work with next year, the books will take a $10.9-million hit if government does not continue the CIF.Trustee Trisha Estabrooks said the trajectory of the CIF should be a lesson to the board that some funds come and go and cannot be relied upon.With more kids to educate, school principals are funnelling money into teachers, meaning some workers, like mental health therapists, may not return next year.“The reality is, with the loss of things like the classroom improvement fund, there are fewer dollars and it will impact services and supports in our schools,” Supt. Darrel Robertson said Tuesday. “There’s no sugarcoating that.”School staff are creative, and will find ways to ensure children get help if they need it, he said.The government delayed the provincial budget until fall, to allow a blue ribbon panel to report back on the state of provincial government spending.If the school district’s provincial budget assumptions are wrong, it could be in the awkward position of removing services and programs mid-year next year, Robertson said, “which is incredibly disruptive and not good for student learning.”The budget assumes a provincial school nutrition program introduced by the NDP will continue next school year. Edmonton public receives $1.2 million yearly to help feed kids attending school in some low-income neighbourhoods.Edmonton public’s budget documents said the district is the fastest-growing in Alberta. Planners expect the student body to grow by 3.2 per cent next year, bringing enrolment to 105,127.The most profound growth is expected in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, and junior high and high school grades.
Trisha Estabrooks is the new chairwoman of the Edmonton public school board.
David Bloom /
New chairwomanThe board also elected new leaders for the coming year. After 2 1/2 years in the post, board chairwoman Ward A trustee Michelle Draper stepped aside, and Ward D trustee Estabrooks was acclaimed the new chairwoman.Ward C trustee Shelagh Dunn was acclaimed as vice-chairwoman, taking over for Ward G trustee Bridget Stirling, who has served in the role since October 2017.Estabrooks and Dunn are the two newest board trustees, after both being elected in the October 2017 civic email@example.com