News / Calgary

Calgary classrooms will be dirtier, more crammed and feature crummier technology: CBE

Calgary's public school will cut senior staff, clean its schools less and only replace technology when it breaks, according to a budget plan released Monday that aims to cover a near-$30 million funding shortfall.

The document, due to be debated by Calgary Board of Education Trustees Tuesday, was released on the heels of a memo from organization Chief Supt. David Stevenson in which he warned staff the 2015-16 budget cutbacks will be "difficult for everyone and will affect everyone."

"It's been challenging for superintendents to identify and discuss these assumptions," Stevenson wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Metro. "I know the news will be even harder for many staff."

Even with numerous cutbacks and the scrapping of several programs, the CBE report anticipates a massive jump in class sizes over the next three years. The board's average 30 students per high school class in the system is already the highest in the province, but the board estimates that number will spike to 35.6 by 2017-18.

Middle-school classes will grow by nearly five students and elementary ones will grow by about four students over the same period, the report estimates.

The CBE is also proposing several other strategies that could have major impacts on classroom. Parents already warning that some schools are at a disadvantage due to inadequate technology likely won't welcome a move from a "replacement and refresh" model to a "break/fix model." Eventually, the board says, technology will turn to a "bring your own device strategy."

A portion of the budget report is likely enough to make neat freaks cringe.

"Cleanliness for CBE facilities will be reduced below current standards and the number of single custodian schools will increase," it reads. "This will also have an impact on the number of schools that can be rented by the public."

The CBE will also eliminate two superintendent positions, bringing the total to nine and cut into its oft-criticized communications and legal departments. There are also warnings of cuts at the area office level as well as to other "services and supports that are available to students and schools."

The bleak report comes in the wake of a 2015 budget that did bump up overall education funding, but only enough to cover a two per cent wage increase plus a one-time lump sum payment for teachers.

There were also cuts to grants for English Language Learners and First Nations, Metis, Inuit students.

School board's transportation budgets also saw a cut, the first in at least five years.

Parents and students, however, are mobilizing efforts against the cuts. A video posted by the advocacy group Support our Students Alberta (SOS) three days ago has already been seen more than 60,000 times. It features students holding up signs detailing the reality in their schools.

"There are 28 kids in my kindergarten class!" reads one sign.

Another student reported his building as having no gym teacher, while a peer at another school reported that there wasn't a gym for students at all.

Lisa Turner with has two kids at Calgary's West Dalhousie School. When her oldest started there three years ago, there was already a classroom situated on the stage and that hasn't changed.

She said the school can only afford one specialist teacher and that person teaches an odd combination of physical education and French classes.

"The principal at our school is awesome . . . but he has a balancing act that he has to do every year," she said.

Turner said she believes the SOS video has "touched a nerve" and that's why so many have watched it.