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Layoffs a new layer of pressure during pandemic

April 28, 2020 Laura Harris, ATA News Staff


Educational support staff started receiving layoff notices in recent weeks after the Alberta government announced cuts to  education funding that will be in place until schools resume in-person classes.

Boards are taking different approaches to the funding cuts with a few boards finding ways to actually retain staff until the end of the school year.

This month, transportation grants to school jurisdictions were halved and in May, a cut of 14 per cent to basic instruction grant funding will also kick in. With millions of dollars in cuts to make and many members of their staff requiring 30-days’ notice prior to layoffs, district and school administrators made quick decisions affecting their staff and student learning.

“Every single member of a school staff contributes to the learning environment of our students. Every single member plays a role in them feeling safe, feeling welcome and being ready to learn,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

“So there’s nothing more chaotic for a school than uncertainty around funding, and now schools must deal with that during a pandemic. That’s a lot of pressure when you are still in the early stages of transitioning your staff and hundreds, maybe thousands, of students and their families to at-home learning.”

The education minister said the province was going to “match resources to what is being delivered in an at-home learning environment.”

But as Schilling pointed out, one in six Alberta children live in poverty, and many do not have the resources to establish a learning environment near the quality of the one provided by their school. For many different reasons, other students require the supports of an in-school education.

“Equity is an issue that school jurisdictions have struggled to address since schools shut down on March 15,” Schilling said. “With these cuts, it’s going to be an even greater challenge.”

The government says funding from the cuts to education is being re-allocated to support Alberta’s COVID-19 response.

Schilling said he is impressed by how teachers are striving to connect and learn with their students and families as they all adapt to a new normal.

“These are unprecedented times, but we are very lucky to have unprecedented teachers,” he said.

Here is a sample of what has unfolded since the provincial government’s announcement last month.

Calgary Board of Education

Schools: 246
Students: 125,800
Budget cut: $21 million
Layoffs: 1,900

  • CBE reported finding significant savings in other costs to the organization, allowing for the retention of all 880 of its education assistants and the majority of cleaning and facilities staff.
  • Contract staff and substitute teachers will not receive layoff notices but will have their work limited until the end of the school year.
  • Layoff notices were given to staff that include breakfast and lunch supervisors, part-time cleaners, library assistants, Career and Technology Studies instructors, psychologists and speech pathologists as well as other administrative and support staff.

“We prioritized dollars toward keeping positions that have the closest connection to students and to support learning from home,” said CBE chief superintendent Christopher Usih.

Edmonton Catholic Schools

Schools: 95
Students: 44,330
Budget cut: $5.7 million
Layoffs: 708

  • Of the 708 ECS staff receiving layoff notices, 479 are educational assistants.
  • Ninety members of staff being laid off are funded through the federal Jordan’s Principle grant, which provides additional support to Indigenous students and expires at the end of April.
  • Other positions receiving layoff notices include therapeutic assistants (behavioural therapy, speech language and occupational therapy), media resources support staff, administrative support, licensed practical nurses, and instructors in the areas of second-language programming, career and technology services and fine arts.

“These employees are extremely valued and it is very difficult to issue layoff notices due to a provincial government reduction in funding,” said ECS board chair Laura Thibert. “The board’s expectation is that Alberta Education will restore funding as soon as classes resume.”

Edmonton Public Schools

Schools: 213
Students: 104,930
Budget cut: $17.5 million
Layoffs: 1,868 (1,740 FTE)

  • Staff receiving layoff notices included those in a range of roles in support, custodial and exempt staff groups.

“These decisions were difficult. Every single one of our team members are valued,” said EPSB superintendent Darrel Robertson.

Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools

Schools: 17
Students: 6,000 (approx.)
Budget cut: Information not available
Layoffs: 116

  • Categories of staff receiving layoff notices were not provided.

“We are disappointed that we must lay off these valuable staff members who play important roles in supporting student learning a success — including during this temporary model of learning from home,” said Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools board chair Joe Becigneul.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

Schools: 15, and two outreach programs
Students: 5,000-plus
Budget cut: Approximately $1 million
Layoffs: 181

  • All educational assistants (including early learning EAs and early learning speech language assistants) received layoff notices.
  • Also receiving notices were child and youth care workers, library clerks, library technicians and division receptionists.

“To meet the timelines and estimated funding reductions targeted by Alberta Education, while still adhering to collective agreements that govern employee relations with the majority of our support staff, we had to act quickly to notify impacted staff of their layoff with 30-days’ notice, which was on March 31, 2020,” said HSCSC superintendent Ken Sampson.

Peace Wapiti Public School Division

Schools: 36
Students: 6,000
Budget cut: Information not available
Layoffs: 103

  • All 103 school bus drivers permanently employed by PWPSD received layoff notices.
  • The cut to its transportation grant brought an end to deliveries of course packages to students with limited access to technology.

“… we were unable to find sufficient resources to cover the 51 per cent reduction to our transportation grant for the months of April, May and June,” said PWPSD superintendent Bob Stewart. “As a result, we regrettably initiated the process of communicating temporary layoff decisions to our bus drivers.” ❚


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