Teacher cuts coming in Catholic division

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Local boards grapple with deficits

Teacher layoffs are coming in the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division as the jurisdiction deals with a projected deficit for next year.

Both of the other mainstream school jurisdictions that serve the area are projecting deficits for next year as well.

The Catholic division is expecting to receive $1.2 million less in provincial grant funding next year, which will likely mean a deficit of at least $500,000 and the potential loss of 13 teachers, said secretary-treasurer Deb Schlag.

She cautioned the numbers are preliminary projections and actual figures won’t be final until the board reviews and passes the budget on June 20.

“There will be cuts, of course,” Schlag said.

The division used $659,000 of its reserves last year and is projecting to end the year with about $1 million in reserves. Tapping that will be one way of addressing the shortfall.

“I would suggest strongly to the board that we do not exceed what our budget deficit target was for this year because you can’t keep going in that direction, especially as you keep depleting your reserves,” Schlag said.

Like other divisions across the province, the Catholic board is feeling a financial crunch due to funding cuts from the province, said chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull.

While Education Minister Dave Hancock did provide money to pay for teachers’ salary increases this year, there were cuts to the class size initiative and the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, which funds innovative teaching projects, she said.

This has the division reviewing its operations looking for ways to save while minimizing the impact in the classroom, she said.

“You have to take really hard looks at what you’re doing but I have no worries that we’ll provide the same level of education as we provided before and we’ll work really hard to do that,” Turnbull said.

The division employs about 400 teachers and hopes to handle the cuts through attrition, she said.

The division is projecting stable enrolment for next year.

Protestants protest

The Protestant board passed a $1.9-million deficit on Wednesday, which will be handled by tapping reserves and making other internal adjustments. The only layoffs will be associated with a projected decline in enrolment, said board chair Joan Tretter.

“We’re pretty well OK this year and that’s about it,” she said. “We can’t continue to pull down our reserves for operating and not take drastic cuts.”

The district expects to have about $4 million in operating reserves by the end of the current school year and will use $1.6 million to offset the deficit, said secretary-treasurer Michael Brenneis.

Sturgeon School Division is facing a $1-million deficit, which has the board in special meetings poring over the budget line by line, said superintendent Michele Dick.

The board took $450,000 from reserves to pay for five teachers who have provided relief in various areas across the district this year. The division will lose those positions but it’s unknown whether further cuts are coming, Dick said.

The division expects to have about $3 million in reserves when this school year ends and will consider using some of that to offset the deficit, Dick said.

She levelled criticism at the province.

“I have grave concerns that student needs have to be addressed,” she said. “Parents have fair expectations for the education of their children and in a province like Alberta to be looking at million-dollar deficits and to see some of the funding cuts that we have seen is very troublesome to me.”

This week the Edmonton public board announced it would cut 350 teachers. The Alberta Teachers’ Association is predicting 1,000 job losses province-wide. The response from Premier Ed Stelmach was that finances are tough throughout the government.

Cuts across the province will mostly impact young teachers who have probationary or temporary contracts, said Sean Brown, president of the ATA local for the St. Albert Catholic division.

“Talking to some of them, their outlook is not very positive, Brown said. “Their prospects of looking for jobs in their chosen profession are not great.”

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