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Class size reporting and impact of school calendar

The Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees held our first meeting of 2020, here are the highlights from today:

Communications from board chair

Board Chair Estabrooks expressed sorrow and condolences on behalf of the board for the lives lost in the plane crash in Iran, including two Edmonton Public School students.  All of our thoughts are with their families and friends. She expressed that we have provided feedback and are expecting to hear from the province on both the funding framework review for education in this province and the curriculum review panel findings.  Our chair also thanked our division’s maintenance workers for their work in keeping our school buildings safe and working well.

Motion on class size reporting

Trustee Michael Janz provided rationale for a motion to continue reporting class size information.  The Alberta Education funding manual no longer requires school board to report class size data and our board discussed the importance of continuing to track this data to measure the impact on funding cuts.  Trustees discussed the class size metric and many acknowledged that this does not tell the full picture of the cuts, as there is a great deal of complexity in teaching to a varied classroom of students.  This motion was amended to include consultation with other jurisdictions and the potential of looking at metrics other than just class size to tell the full story of the impact of funding on the quality of education.  The motion passed with a vote of 6-3.  I was in support of continuing to track this information so that we can contribute to the conversation on class size as it continues in this province.

Report on potential calendar changes

The board discussed a report on the impact of lengthening school days in order to shorten the number of instructional days and increase the number of professional development days available to teachers.  We heard that each instructional day costs approximately $150,000 in bussing costs and decreasing instructional days can save some nominal costs in transportation.

Trustees also heard that increasing the number of division-wide PD days can save supply costs (costs to hire substitute teachers when a regular classroom teacher misses a day of work to attend professional development).  An increase in the number of dedicated days for PD will mean less teachers having to miss a day of instruction to further their learning and an additional 3 PD days per year could save a total of $2 Million dollars in supply costs, but would also necessitate 2 additional non-instructional days.

The  board discussed the need to look everywhere for potential savings, and the increased stress of teachers and all staff who will be asked to do more with less given current cuts.  We discussed the importance of staff health and also the importance of supporting staff with time for professional development in order to increase the quality of education available to students, while keeping teachers in front of their classrooms rather than hiring substitute teachres.  We also expressed concerns about the impact to parents and the possibility for partnering with Metro Continuing Education or other community partners to offer day camps should this be a direction the board considers in the future.

You can view our board meeting online.

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Bus fee increase in response to provincial cut to School Fee Reduction Grant

At our board meeting yesterday, Trustees discussed a proposal to raise bus fees in response to a subsidy cut from the province.

History to this decision:

On October 24, the provincial government removed the School Fee Reduction Grant to school boards.  This resulted in an immediate reduction of $5.3 million dollars for EPSB’s transportation costs, and we no longer have the surplus funds to cover this cost.

The School Fee Reduction Grant to school boards was enacted in 2017 along with An Act to Reduce School Fees.  The grant provided a subsidy for bus fees for students who live 2.4 kilometres or more from their designated school. Because of this subsidy, these families did not have to pay bus fees for students in kindergarten to grade 6, and received a subsidized ETS bus pass for $19 for students in grades 7-9. (Edmonton Public Schools did not receive a subsidy for students who live less than 2.4 kilometres from their designated school or who were not attending their designated school and full fees have always been charged for these families).

Yesterday the Board of Trustees voted to reinstate fees for families living 2.4 kilometres or greater from their designated school.  This is not a decision we took lightly.  We have received classroom and transportation cuts this year and without the provincial subsidy, we cannot take funding from the classroom to cover these costs.  We know that any increase in fees to parents has an impact on family budgets, particularly for families with low income.

Some key points:

  • The fee increase impacts only students who live 2.4 kms or more from their designated school and who have had subsidized fees. Our other families will not see fee increases in February.
  • The increase to transportation fees will take effect February 1, 2020. The increase is not retroactive, as we wanted to give families notice of this decision.
  • The board also approved charging transportation fees for Kindergarten students, who have previously received free busing, in order to preserve our funds to classrooms.
  • Special education students who receive curb service will not pay fees; transportation for these students remains no charge.

This fee increase will help us to bridge a portion of our funding gap for this year, but we will need to think more broadly about how Edmonton Public Schools provides transportation services to students, and what we charge for that service.  Our board also passed an emergent motion to engage with families about their priorities related to transportation, which will likely result in a survey to families in January.

I also requested information on how low income families can be protected from increasing fees.  Currently, families can speak with their child’s principal if they require assistance with school or transportation that present a financial hardship.

If you have any questions or concerns about fee increases, please contact me, I would love to speak with you.  I would also like to recommend speaking with your MLA and the Education Minister, Adriana LaGrange if you have any concerns about the impact of provincial budget decisions on education. A great tool for contact information for your MLA or any government Minister is “Who is my MLA?

You can view our board meeting online.  We also discussed our current education plan, annual results and advocacy to the federal government.

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Board discusses impacts of budget cuts

Our board had an eventful meeting tonight with important budget implications:

Fall Revised Budget

Edmonton Public Schools is in the unprecedented position of having a fall revised budget tabled with significant funding reductions.  We saw a mid-year unexpected budget shortfall of $34 million from our spring budget.  And this report also detailed that our 2019 revenue from the province saw a cut to funding of $23 million dollars compared to 2018.  This means we have $23 million less than last year and over 3,000 students more than last year.

In discussion, we heard that over 80% of our district costs are salaries, with the other 20% being building, supply and transportation costs.  This means that it is impossible to just find efficiencies when considering the state of funding for our district for the next four years.  This is because the province has signalled that it will keep funding for education at 2018 levels for the next four years, even though there will be an additional 60,000 students entering the K-12 education system during this time.

With funding cuts, and without funding growth to match our growing number of students, it means a radical re-shaping of education in Edmonton Public Schools.  We will need to work together with our staff, families and communities to make these decisions going forward.

Approval of spending reserves

In order to make up the shortfall in dollars we are seeing this year, Edmonton Public School Board Trustees approved spending $56 million in reserves to avoid having to re-open school budgets and prevent staff layoffs.  In approving this spend, we will have depleted our reserves by the end of the year.  Trustees discussed with our administration the choices needed to accommodate this spending and heard information about the impact on our ability to meet emerging student needs through our equity fund.  We also heard about how future funding decisions will be impacted by the depletion in our reserves, as we will now have very little flexibility to meet emerging needs.

Our board also heard about the money added back to surplus that had previously been designated to inclusive learning for external assessments and other needs.  We learned that some of these assessments will now be completed in partnership with AHS.  Our board also heard that the inclusive learning funding we receive from the province does not match our needs, as we are putting $20 million more every year into inclusive learning than we receive from the province – and this funding is based on a formula, not tied to individual student coding.

We also heard plans from our Superintendent to prepare scenarios with 8% and 10% reductions in funding for our board to contemplate, as many factors related to next year’s budget remain uncertain.  These scenarios would mean significant changes to education in our school district.

Board Chair Communications

Our Board Chair discussed our Board’s work with other Metro school boards in Edmonton and Calgary advocating for the needs of students in large cities in our province.  She also discussed our board’s response to the upcoming Choice in Education act – the position that we need more support for public education.  Our chair also signalled that our board is looking at ways to save costs and will propose to the province that we re-use a currently existing design from our last high school build to save design costs on our desperately needed high school in the south east – in the hope that we can see this school built sooner.

Board speakers

We heard from board speakers on trustee advocacy and messaging of the tone and tempo to match the threat to public education, and on increasing reporting and work to prevent and eliminate the use of seclusion rooms with students.

Professional development

The board also debated funding to support professional development of staff and voted to maintain funding this year, even though our staff numbers have increased with our growing enrolment. We discussed the importance of increasing staff capacity, particularly when we are seeing reductions in budgets as this limits our ability to fund outside supports.

Audited financial statements

We discussed the audited financial statements for 2018-2019.  Our external auditors offered a clean audit opinion on the financial statements.

If you are interested in learning more, please attend my Town Hall on Thursday night!

As always, you can watch our board meetings online:

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Adequate, Equitable Funding for Education

Yesterday’s board meeting held an important discussion for Trustees. We discussed a motion put forward by our Board Chair on the necessity for adequate, equitable funding for education:

RECOMMENDATION
That the Board of Trustees advocate to the Government of Alberta that they clearly communicate changes to the funding framework for education to Edmonton Public Schools prior to implementation and consider suggestions from Edmonton Public Schools on the draft of the framework.

Further, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees advocate for adequate, equitable funding that takes into account enrolment growth, ensuring that all children receive the support they need to be successful.

This motion was incredibly timely because our board is only just coming to terms with the impact of the provincial budget announcements.

Provincial Budget

The province has frozen K-12 education funding at 2018 levels ($8.2 billion dollars) with plans to continue this freeze of funding at $8.2 billion dollars for the next four years. This freeze is significant because by the end of the next four years, there will be an estimated 60,000 additional students in the K-12 education system in Alberta, with no new funding.

That number is a large number – 60,000 students is enough to fill 150 elementary schools or 30 high schools.  If there is no new funding entering the system, the only way to provide teachers and EAs and custodians and supports to these additional students is to re-allocate resources from currently existing schools.  This waters-down the supports that our provincial system can provide to students and increases the demands on teachers and staff who are already working hard in incredibly complex classrooms. In my opinion, that means that there will be less supports for students, and a higher chance of students slipping through the cracks in our system. And in a city like Edmonton, where our board has seen increases in students by at least 3% every year,  the effects are cumulative for every year that passes without additional funding.

Funding Formula Review

The Ministry of Education is currently in the process of reviewing how this money will be distributed to all of the school boards within the province.  Our board discussed the importance of being engaged in that process so that we can discuss the needs of Edmonton Public students while the province makes decisions about how the budget of $8.2 billion dollars should be split between all school boards and schools in this province.  We stressed the need to be informed ahead of time regarding any changes so that we are not in a position of having to respond to important funding changes mid-way through the year.

More importantly, our board discussed the importance of adequate and equitable funding.  Because adequate funding means enough resources to ensure that every student in our province has what they need to be successful – and this includes a well-supported teacher in a manageable classroom size, supports from EAs, mental health therapists, and a strong inclusive learning team. In order to do this, when our school board grows, we need funding growth to maintain these supports.

Our board will be working hard in the coming months to engage with parents, students, staff and community to listen to your values, your priorities and your concerns.  We will be working hard to make some difficult decisions together with our communities and will be doing everything we can to put the needs of our students first.  If you have a question or concern, or would like to share you thoughts with me, please reach out to me: shelagh.dunn@epsb.ca.

As always, you can watch our board meeting on You Tube:

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Board Update: October 22, 2019

Today’s board meeting was short but there are some important highlights (full meeting package and minutes are available online):

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks expressed that the board will be looking towards the budget announcement on Thursday, October 24th, and will be holding the government to the promise that funding for education will be maintained or increased.  Chair Estabrooks also remarked that education funding is an investment in the future.  She shared the reality that Edmonton Public Schools will be out of high school space by 2022 if a new high school is not built in the south east.

On class size funding, Chair Estabrooks expressed that our board believes it is possible to roll this funding into our overall base funding and that reducing overall funding for class sizes is a concern and an item we will be watching closely, as we look forward to future conversations.

Student senate workplan: Our three Student Trustees were sworn into office today and they discussed with the board the student senate’s work in distilling student feedback on improvement needed in the student experience to four themes: mental health, diversity and cohesion, environment, and life skills.  The student senate reported the decision to focus in depth on the theme of life skills for this year and will work towards a student symposium at the end of May.

Board chair notice of motion: A notice of motion was provided by Chair Estabrooks for discussion at our next board meeting, that Edmonton Public School Board advocate for adequate, equitable funding that takes into account enrolment growth.  EPSB has had 9 years of 3% enrolment growth, and it is likely this trend will continue.

A thank you to ASCA: I had the opportunity to thank the Alberta School Council Association for partnering with me to visit School Councils in Ward C to talk about the resources available for School Councils, and the importance of School Councils as a voice in their local school, for the board and as a voice for education in the province.

Board of Trustees with Student Trustees