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Public school officials are planning to hire 710 school-based staff over the next year as the Calgary Board of Education faces an ongoing surge of new students, many with complex learning needs.
Thanks to an additional $130 million — part of the overall 5.2 per cent increase in the UCP’s education budget this spring — CBE officials are proposing to hire 574 new teachers and 136 new educational assistants for the 2023-24 school year.
According to the CBE budget presented to trustees this week, the new staff would address an influx of more than 12,000 new students over two years — 7,007 this year and another 5,000 expected next year.
But with CBE now operating 251 sites across the city, the largest public school district in Western Canada, that works out to about two to three new teachers or educational assistants per school.
And critics say that won’t be nearly enough to address growing class sizes.
Trustee Susan Vukadinovic said parents have told her many classrooms that started at 20 students last fall have now grown to more than 40, as public schools deal with enrolment growth and refugees with complex learning needs.
“Unfortunately, this past school year we had cases, even in kindergarten and Grade 1, where class sizes ballooned to above 40 kids per class as we continued to have new kids enrolling every week,” Vukadinovic said.
“At school council meetings, CBE parents have been telling me that they welcome the newcomer students who are arriving and want to see them in our community schools. But they are wondering if there is a way to welcome these additional students without having this upheaval of increasing class sizes.”
CBE’s chief financial officer Brad Grundy said that while the additional teachers and assistants will help manage complex learners, the unprecedented enrolment hike means the proposed new hires still won’t be enough to bring down class sizes.
“We are trying to maintain staff levels consistent with the current school year. Budget 2023-24 does that,” Grundy told trustees. “But it does not increase the number of school-based staff per student. It holds the line.”
New hires not enough to help students get support: union
Stephani Clements, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38 representing public school teachers, said many students still won’t get the supports they need.
“It’s really only bridging the gap between overwhelmingly large class sizes down to ‘still too large to adequately support all students’ class sizes,” Clements said, adding that student growth is up more than 10 per cent since 2021-22, and current funding falls short.
“Our students deserve better, and our teachers are trying, but it seems more and more that public education is being set up to fail.”
Since last September, when schools opened with no COVID restrictions for the first time since the start of the pandemic, public boards are seeing unprecedented enrolment spikes, with many younger students who stayed home during COVID returning to in-person learning.
This year, CBE officials had planned for about 1,500 new students but saw as many as 6,000 enrol. As of this month, that number has grown to more than 7,000. Of those, hundreds are from wartorn countries such as Ukraine, arriving with multiple complexities, from trauma to language learning.
“We’ve been observing a demographic shift relative to newcomers coming to Canada and students requiring supports in English language learning,” said Joanne Pitman, CBE superintendent of school improvement, adding that up to 30 per cent of students are expected to be English language learners by next year.
“When we look at complexity, there has been an ongoing increase. We have a higher percentage of a student population identified with a special education code, and we are seeing that same trend within our enrolment growth.”
Alberta Education has provided additional grants for school districts facing unprecedented enrolment growth, including $110 million for the CBE. Another $126 million is being provided over the next three years to support complex learners.
But Medeana Moussa, spokeswoman for Support Our Students, said this year’s funding increases don’t make up for the flat funding school boards have suffered over the past several years.
‘Schools have been left absolutely scrambling,’ advocate says
She added that public schools are getting hit particularly hard, because they take in the most newcomers.
“Schools have been left absolutely scrambling. Newcomers are not the types of students that will go to charter schools, private schools or independent schools.
“These are the students that go directly into the public system, into regular programming, because public schools are open to everyone. So that’s where we are seeing the largest class sizes,” she said.
Moussa, who also has kids attending CBE schools, said the addition of two to three new teachers or assistants at each school will have little effect.
“The new staffing will not keep up with growth. It’s an investment that will just keep them treading water.”
Trustees will debate the CBE’s $1.5-billion budget on Tuesday, one day after the provincial election, and send it to Alberta Education for approval.
But CBE officials said no matter who wins the election, Alberta Education’s budget is set for next year.
New teachers will be hired over the summer months, with most coming from the substitute roster, which currently has about 2,000 teachers on it.
“Since January, we have conducted nearly 800 interviews and hired more than 410 new graduates. The new hires will either join the substitute roster to replace teachers that have moved to new positions or they may fill vacant permanent and temporary positions,” said CBE spokeswoman Joanne Anderson, adding that new teachers and school-based staff are expected to be in place for the first day of school.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Catholic School District approved its budget for next year, balancing $650.9 million in revenues and $667.9 million in expenditures. The $17-million operating gap will come from capital transactions and a proposed transfer from reserves.
“The district continues to prioritize students’ successes in a challenging environment of escalating costs and enrolment,” says board chair Cathie Williams.
As well, the district anticipates $35.6 million in new funding from Alberta Education, some of which will be used to hire 75 new teachers and 40 education assistants to support increasing enrolment and student complexity.
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