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CBE's top official surprised by depth of high school cuts despite giving order: Emails

Calgary's top public school official expressed shock at the depths of budget cuts to city high schools, even after previously signing off on the move as a way to encourage "flexibility" and require teachers to log more instructional hours, according to emails obtained by Metro.

The April email exchange came as school principals received their resource-allocation funding and began expressing concern over an 11 per cent reduction in per-student grants.

Chief Supt. Naomi Johnson first raised concerns to former chief financial officer Deborah Meyers about the cuts on the evening of April 19. But Meyers countered repeatedly that she was simply following guidelines set out in a meeting involving Johnson and superintendent of learning innovation, Cathy Faber.

Meyers said in the email: "You mentioned that for high school, given the new direction, class sizes were not an appropriate indicator and that this force to 'larger class sizes' fit in with the direction being contemplated by the new direction and high school flexibility initiative and the lower number of hours that teachers currently are required to provide.

"There was much discussion about changing the way high schools delivered and that this could be the catalyst."

Johnson then responded, "I understand and agree that was our opinion. No one ever indicate that it would amount to 11 per cent!"

The revealing emails come amid repeated complaints of crowded Grade 10-12 core-subject classrooms, with some cramming in more than 40 students.

Metro provided the emails to Frank Bruseker, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association Local 38, on Sunday.

Bruseker said the comments from Meyers make it clear the cuts and resulting impact to high schools "were not accidental, but, in fact, done by design."

He also dismissed any claims that high-school teachers work less than their peers in lower grades.

"In fact, I suspect many of them would say they're working more, especially when you factor in the volunteer time," Bruseker said.

Johnson was in transit and not available for an interview Sunday, a spokesperson said, but did provide a statement claiming the cuts to high schools actually came in at a much leaner 4.5 per cent cut.

The statement indicated Johnson would be available for an interview Monday.

Officials said last week schools would only have experienced more severe reductions if their student population had decreased year-over-year and said high-school class sizes were on par with counts seen last year.

But incumbent trustees weren't so sure Sunday.

Both Wards 1 and 2 representative Joy Bowen-Eyre and Wards 11 and 13 Sheila Taylor reviewed the emails and offered criticisms of the decisions made.

"It's clear we need more oversight into decisions . . . there isn't that clear understanding of what it means when decisions are made and how it's going to impact kids in the classroom," Bowen-Eyre said, adding she doesn't think data on average class sizes provided by the CBE is painting a clear picture of the current situation in city classrooms.

Taylor, meanwhile, questioned why the high school "flexibility" initiative repeatedly discussed in the emails had never brought before elected officials.

"This is a prime example of what happens when you have a budget process that is not transparent," she said. "What happens is the board, the public, teachers and parents don't get the information they need on the budget and this is another example where serious cuts were happening in the system and both the amount of the cut and the reasons for the cut were not transparent to the public."

Wards 6 and 7 trustee George Lane dismissed an offer to review the emails Sunday, reiterating the real concern is what he views as inadequate funding from the province.

Wards 3 and 4 incumbent Lynn Ferguson and Wards 5 and 10 incumbent Pamela King did not respond to requests for comment.

The email exchange is attached below, the first email sent is at the bottom of the document

EDITORS NOTE: THE FULL RESPONSE FROM THE CBE WAS NOT INCLUDED IN THE MAIN STORY. IT WAS RECEIVED AT 8 PM SUNDAY, AND WE HAVE DECIDED IT WOULD BE IN THE BEST INTEREST OF READERS TO PROVIDE THE FULL RESPONSE FROM CHIEF SUPT. NAOMI JOHNSON.

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