FMCSD will have fewer teachers in September, financial reserves nearly gone

Fort McMurray’s Catholic schools is dealing with the loss through attrition. They are one of 24 Alberta school boards facing similar cuts.

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The Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD) won’t have enough funding for 30.5 full-time teaching positions, according to the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).

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In a statement to staff and shared with Fort McMurray Today, FMCSD superintendent Natasha MacArthur-Poole said the cuts have been “absorbed by our normal attrition rate.” This also means they will not be hiring as many new positions for the fall.

Provincial funding has failed to match FMCSD’s operating costs, she said. The division’s financial reserves were used to bridge this gap, which has hovered around $5 million annually for the past five years. Those reserves are about to run out.

“Our operating reserves will be depleted by the end of the current school year meaning that we must now adjust our operations and staffing level to align with our funding and provincial averages,” said MacArthur-Poole.

The cuts come as Catholic and public school leaders warn portables, expansions or new schools are needed to meet projected growth. FMPSD was not mentioned in the ATA’s statement and a spokesperson for the division declined to comment.

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“Since the approval of the budget by the board in May, division and school administration have been working diligently to find efficiencies and identify the staffing level for each school that can be supported in the budget,” said MacArthur-Poole.

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Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Timberlea in Fort McMurray on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

Schools facing ‘chronic underfunding’: ATA

FMCSD is one of 24 school divisions across Alberta that will have fewer teachers next year after the ATA reviewed their public budgets. The ATA estimates 289.7 teaching positions are in danger of being cut.

Of the 24 school divisions, 18 are budgeting for increased enrolment. Most divisions projecting cuts are in northern Alberta. The Red Deer Catholic School Board is projecting the most cuts with an estimated 90.6 positions, or 15 per cent of their staff.

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ATA president Jason Schilling said teacher retention and recruitment in Alberta is in the red zone, and some jurisdictions have been unable to fill teaching positions.

The cuts will cause larger classrooms, teacher burnout and hurt the abilities of students to learn, he said, arguing that Alberta’s education system is in a crisis exacerbated by “chronic underfunding.”

The situations that we’re seeing, that we’ve been talking about all year, are going to be worse next year,” Schilling said. 

“It‘s surprising to see school boards that have increasing enrolment, including an increase for some of them in special-needs students, to project cuts going forward, and that is something that the government should be ashamed and embarrassed by.” 

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Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told Postmedia he is always open to talking to school boards to make improvements, adding boards have the “autonomy and accountability” to manage budgets and hiring to reflect their needs.

“In most cases, staffing decisions are a reflection of increasing or decreasing enrolment,” Nicolaides said.

“Our government is making record investments in education that will support the hiring of more than 3,000 teachers, (educational assistants) and educational staff to ensure every student has the support they need to succeed in the classroom.”

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