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Schools facing massive budget cuts getting creative, dipping into maintenance funds

Last Updated Dec 4, 2019 at 6:29 am MST

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – As school boards around Alberta grapple with reduced funding from the province, some are looking for creative solutions to make up budget shortfall–including dipping into maintenance reserves.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the province will allow boards one-time access to the funds–which are meant to keep schools in good repair–and use the money to supplement the cash flow dedicated to classroom costs.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) applied to access $15 million from an infrastructure and maintenance grant, which the province approved. At a Tuesday meeting to discuss using the $15 million, the CBE superintendent said the board will know more in the coming days and will have a clearer picture during a Dec. 10 budget update.

However, it’s unclear how–if at all–the money will impact the decision to layoff 300 hundred teachers.

RELATED: Laid-off CBE teachers learn what’s next for them

The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) says the ability to access money is a big help, but it’s only a bandaid solution.

“I was worried about the impact of the cuts that were going to happen to my colleagues in Calgary and the effects that it would have on their classrooms, but I also recognize that this is a temporary measure and it’s not a long-term solution. And that’s really what needs to be found,” said ATA President Jason Schilling.

Education critic, NDP’s Sarah Hoffman, is concerned that dipping into maintenance funds could put student safety at risk should something happen to a campus building.

“You’re laying off the roofer and plumber and the electrician to try to not layoff the teacher and the educational assistant. I understand why people might feel like that’s the best choice, but, in my opinion, the best choice is just for the education minister to reverse the cuts and fund education properly,” said Hoffman.

Schilling says local school boards have seen cuts to their maintenance budget for the last number of years, and there are certainly some schools in the province that are in need of repairs and upgrades. But he argues they need to make sure that “students have a future in front of them” as well.

Hoffman added that most people she’s heard from are not impressed with the education cuts, as they were assured education would be kept a priority in the October budget.

“I have heard from many folks that are deeply concerned about a broken promise–the fact that they were told that there would be maintained or increased education funding. What we’ve seen instead is that most boards that are speaking up have been talking about cuts.”

READ MORE: Education Minister orders audit of CBE finances; ATA refutes claims of mismanagement

The CBE’s budgets have been scrutinized recently by the UCP, with the board facing an audit after the government accused it of overspending.

The audit will be the second the CBE has faced in recent years. The NDP reviewed the boards spending when the party formed government and Hoffman doesn’t think the UCP will find anything particularly scandalous in the investigation.

“I believe if they fired everyone who works in HR, if they fired everyone who works in procurement and those types of things, you still couldn’t make up for that [$30-million] funding shortfall from the provincial government.”

-with files from Crystal Laderas, Tom Ross