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Two school divisions avoid big layoffs after funding changes from UCP

Last Updated Apr 2, 2020 at 1:48 pm MDT

A vacant teachers desk is pictured at the front of a empty classroom is pictured at McGee Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

MEDICINE HAT (660 NEWS) – Despite major cuts from Alberta Education, two school divisions in southern Alberta are avoiding mass layoffs.

Last week, the United Conservative government said it was adjusting school funding, leading to thousands of support staff being laid off.

RELATED:Alberta temporarily cuts education funding

This resulted in a 14 per cent reduction in grants, and a severe drop in funding for transportation.

The Medicine Hat Public School Division has avoided all layoffs by redirecting funds and using buses to transport printed materials and food.

In a statement, they say finance staff took a look at the books and identified where revenue could be saved and moved around.

“So, the government gets what they need, and our people get to stay with us, so that is good news,” read the statement from Superintendent Mark Davidson.

Meanwhile, in southeastern Alberta, only 35 people will be laid off at the Prairie Rose School Division.

“Instead of laying off 128 EA people, because that’s where the target demographic was for the working group, it’ll be around that 35 number,” said Superintendent Roger Clarke.

“It will work for them, they can be at home and they can certainly access other financial support.”

Clarke says some costs are reduced meaning they’ll be able to keep most staff employed and provide cash for contracted bus drivers.

He credits school staff with finding the efficiencies.

“No one wants to lose funding but when we do, it’s always good that we permitted the ability to find local solutions.”

The move to cut funding resulted in wide backlash from union leaders and parents in Alberta, who are concerned especially how this could affect students with special needs.

“I absolutely could not believe it,” said Rory Gill, President of CUPE Alberta.

Gill said he had no prior notification the province would make these cuts and credits the hard work of officials in these school divisions for mitigating the losses, but it should not have been necessary in the first place.

“It was shocking, cynical and completely unnecessary,” he said.

While the province said educational assistants were not doing enough work to justify them being paid, Gill said teachers trying to adapt to online learning can use the help and there could be more planning for the next school year happening right now.

“There could have been very creative things going on,” said Gill. “Because when we do get through this and the schools are open again, it’s probably going to be one of the most intense years in history. There will still be catch-up to do and of course, the educational assistants would be vital — are vital — to that.”

“One of the most shortsighted decisions I’ve ever seen.”

Premier Jason Kenney added that the jobs will be safe and when schools are back in session, these laid-off workers will be welcomed back.

But Gill is doubtful.

“I think this government hasn’t acknowledged the incredible scope of the crisis were in — both in health and economically — and I think they’re still focused on what they believe should be their mandate, which is to cut public services.”