As the Calgary Board of Education prepares to cut nearly 300 teachers on temporary contracts as a result of a “budget gap,” the province is launching an independent financial audit of the board along with a governance review.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Wednesday that the CBE has shown “a clear pattern of mismanagement … that must be corrected.”
She described the layoffs as “reprehensible” and “reckless.”
“When you look at the fact that they have a $1.2 billion budget servicing 130,000 students and their only recourse in their decision-making is to cut teachers, it’s unacceptable,” said LaGrange.
LaGrange stated it’s “another example of this board’s inability to appropriately manage its finances and prioritize student learning in its operations.”
On Tuesday, CBE Supt. Christopher Usih said teachers affected by those cuts have received notice that their contracts will end as of Jan. 2, 2020. The teachers will be placed on the substitute teacher roster on Jan. 3 and a number of them “may be considered for future temporary contracts.”
Usih said the UCP government’s budget, tabled last month, left the CBE with a $32-million shortfall. He added the CBE was in the process of making “several other decisions to cover our budget gap,” which will be communicated to staff and parents as soon as possible.
Budget reductions discussed at a board meeting last week included cutting the overall funding allocated to 246 schools by $22 million, or 2.5 per cent. Officials said that will mean some temporary employee contracts will be eliminated and some central and area-based staff will be redeployed to schools.
“This budget decision impacts many of our schools, classrooms, and students,” Usih said.
LaGrange said the CBE “has a history of questionable, irresponsible decision-making when it comes to its finances,” pointing to the 20-year lease of a downtown building in 2010-11.
“I have been extremely clear that I expect all boards to minimize impacts on front-line staff and teachers, and to prioritize the educational experience of our students. Alberta Education offered the Calgary Board of Education assistance in achieving this, assistance that the board refused,” she stated.
But NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said LaGrange was warned repeatedly that the UCP budget would lead to layoffs.
“Of course it’s because the UCP government said that they were going to fund enrolment growth — they didn’t. They said they were going to protect education — they’re cutting it,” she said. “And now here we are mid-year dealing with those consequences and kids are paying the price and teachers are losing their jobs.”
When asked by reporters whether the review could result in “firing” or “disbanding” the school board, LaGrange did not rule it out.
“I am looking at a governance review and an independent financial audit and all my options,” she said.
In 2017, the former NDP government also launched a review of the CBE’s finances. The review found that the board’s per-student spending was comparable to Alberta’s other three metro boards but that it could look to find efficiencies through busing services.
LaGrange said the province has no plans to audit the Calgary Catholic School District or other school boards.
The Calgary Catholic School District says it’s facing a $17-million deficit following October’s provincial budget.
But board chair Mary Martin said the shortfall won’t mean fewer teachers working at its schools across Calgary and Rocky View County. Martin said the board asked its administration to come up with a recommendation “to preserve classroom conditions and our staff.”
“One of the things that makes this budget along with some of the grant reductions and eliminations challenging is the midyear nature of it,” she said.
“At this point in time we’re comfortable that we will be not laying off anyone. We’ll be using reserves. One of the challenges is it’s not a good long-term measure.”
Martin said the school board is looking for other efficiencies, but wouldn’t go into detail on what options are on the table. She said some vacant positions at the school board’s central office would not be filled.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s statement released on Wednesday, Nov. 20:
—With files from Janet French and Lisa Johnson