CANMORE – Officials with the Bow Valley's public school division say they were surprised by the announcement over the weekend by the provincial government that it would be cutting education budgets as a result of classes being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement Saturday (March 28) indicated funding will be “temporarily adjusted,” something Canadian Rockies Public School division said will leave it $400,000 short in its 2019-20 budget and will result in layoffs at local schools.
“The most recent announcement was very unexpected considering we were led to believe there would be no reductions in funding and we were to maintain all staff for the remainder of the present year,” said CRPS superintendent Chris MacPhee.
“Although this announcement was made on Saturday it was not until today [March 31] that we received the total amount of the reduction, which is approximately $400,000, from both our instructional block and transportation department. We continue to unpack the details as outlined by the province and our objective at this point is to try and find a balance in supporting our staff and meeting the required reduction targets.”
In the release from the province, it indicated money allocated for transportation, substitute teachers and educational assistants not being used for at-home learning would be reallocated to COVID-19 supports. The province stated the reduction is temporary while classes remain cancelled in response to COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has changed both how we provide student learning, and the operational needs of the education system," said Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange in a press release.
"I want to stress that this is a temporary arrangement as schools focus on at-home learning. I have full confidence the system will continue to be equipped to successfully deliver our education continuity plan.”
While MacPhee said CRPS is still figuring out the direct impacts the cuts will have, he added there would most certainly be layoffs.
“These new adjustments will have a significant impact on our CRPS team,” he said.
“Staff affected by these changes remain now, and after this crisis, as valued team members and in no way do these prescribed temporary layoffs reflect the endless contributions to our students and communities. I know I speak for our board and administrative teams when I say that everyone plays an integral part in our division and is essential in supporting the wellbeing and educational needs of our students.”
Any staff affected would be able to apply for the federal government’s enhanced employment insurance program.
For MacPhee and his team, the layoffs don’t come easy.
“This is a very sad and challenging time for everyone and this is by far the most difficult action I have been required to take during my entire career,” he said.
“These are dedicated hardworking individuals whose families and children will be impacted by this decision. It is our hope that these temporary layoffs will be short lived but only time will tell.”