'Chronic underfunding': Teacher cuts projected provincewide for 2024-25 year, ATA says

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Despite an increase to this year’s education budget and high student enrolment, 24 school boards across the province will have fewer teachers in the fall, according to the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).

The ATA projection is from publicly available school board budget reports for 2024-25 and shows that more than 250 teaching positions are being cut.

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Red Deer Catholic School Board (RDCSB) is projecting the highest number of cuts, with an estimated 90.6 positions affected — a 15 per cent reduction to staff.

Murray Hollman, chairman of the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees, said in an interview with Postmedia that the budget constraints were something the board has been wrestling with since January 2024 and they knew they would have issues and make reductions. Hollman said part of the reasoning behind such large cuts was inflationary costs and stagnant enrolment numbers.

“Another area of reductions is we haven’t seen the enrolment growth that we predicted for last year, which directly affects how many teachers we hire. We over-hired last year based off enrolment so we had to do a little bit of resizing,” Hollman said.

The board was forced to dip into their reserve funds which are now below what is recommended. Hollman said now they’re being “very conservative” with their funding.

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‘Should be ashamed’

ATA president Jason Schilling said the cuts will impact students’ learning and result in larger class sizes and teacher burnout. He said Alberta’s education system is in crisis — exacerbated by “chronic underfunding.”

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The situations that we’re seeing, that we’ve been talking about all year, are going to be worse next year,” Schilling said. 

“It‘s surprising to see school boards that have increasing enrolment, including an increase for some of them in special-needs students, to project cuts going forward, and that is something that the government should be ashamed and embarrassed by.” 

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told Postmedia he is always open to talking to school boards to make improvements, adding boards have the “autonomy and accountability” to manage budgets and hiring to reflect their needs.

“In most cases, staffing decisions are a reflection of increasing or decreasing enrolment,” Nicolaides said.

“Our government is making record investments in education that will support the hiring of more than 3,000 teachers, (educational assistants) and educational staff to ensure every student has the support they need to succeed in the classroom.”

Most cuts in northern Alberta: ATA

Fort McMurray Catholic Schools is projecting a reduction of 30 full-time teaching positions, ATA said via email Thursday.

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ATA estimates that 289.7 teaching positions are in danger of being cut. Of the 24 school divisions, 18 are budgeting for increased enrolment and the majority of divisions projecting cuts are located in northern Alberta.

In the greater Edmonton area, school divisions like Elk Island Public are projecting 12.2 cuts to teaching positions and St. Albert is projecting six.

Both Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic School Division were not among the listed boards projecting cuts, and in a statement to Postmedia, neither board will see a reduction in teaching staff. But at their respective board meetings in May to discuss their 2024-25 budgets, both mentioned financial constraints and projected high enrolment numbers for the school year.

“We’re seeing this weighted moving average is not only failing our smaller boards but also our larger boards as well,” Schilling said.

projected teacher cuts
Documents provided by the Alberta Teachers’ Association project budget cuts to full-time teaching positions at 24 school boards in the province. Photo by The Alberta Teachers’ Association /Supplied

Constrained resources

Schilling said divisions across the province are reporting an increase in students with special needs. Some teachers have indicated additional assessments are necessary to tailor teaching strategies, but schools cannot afford them due to constrained resources, he said.

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Teacher retention and recruitment in Alberta is in the red zone, and Schilling said some jurisdictions have not been able to fill teaching positions.

“I worked in classrooms (and have) been teaching all my life, (with) over 25 years’ experience, and when I had classes of 42, for instance, it’s hard for me as a teacher to get to every student and give them that one-on-one time that they need,” Schilling said.

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