Party leaders to get ‘grim’ report from Edmonton school board on funding cuts

The leaders of Alberta’s political parties will be sent a report from Edmonton Public Schools that suggests as many as 932 jobs could be lost if education funding is cut after next spring’s provincial election. Trustees have characterized the report as “grim” and “bleak.”

But United Conservative leader Jason Kenney is rejecting the report and calls it a politically-motivated attack by a trustee who supports the NDP. 

At a public board meeting Tuesday, school trustees with Edmonton Public Schools unanimously passed a motion asking the leaders clarify their views about education funding within six weeks.

Job loss numbers were calculated using hypothetical scenarios. They include funding cuts of three per cent and five per cent over four years, respectively resulting in staff cuts of 841 and 932 full-time jobs.

The report, which was requested by trustee Michael Janz, appears to be aimed at Kenney, whose party is currently leading in the polls over the governing NDP and could form government after the spring election. 

At a news conference in Edmonton Tuesday, Kenney said he rejected the premise of the school board report. No one was proposing a five per cent funding cut and he suggested Janz was misallocating school board resources to attack his party. 

“That report was clearly solicited by an NDP member of the Edmonton school board who thinks it’s a good use of the scarce resources of the school board to basically produce a document to attack the NDP’s opposition,” Kenney said. “I wish they were using the money instead on educating kids.”

Trustees ‘not party-affiliated’

CBC was not able to talk to Janz about why he asked for the report, or how he came up with the scenarios researched by district administration. Those questions fell to board chair Michelle Draper, who under trustee rules, is the only board member allowed speak to the media about any decisions made during a meeting. 

“One of the things that I really appreciate about being a trustee is we’re not party-affiliated,” Draper said. “We’re here to serve Edmonton Public, we’re here to serve the children, the constituents of Edmonton.

“And so the information we’re putting forward, we are putting it forward so that we can make sure that education remains a top priority for government.” 

Draper said the scenario of a three per cent funding cut likely came from the yearly enrolment growth numbers, which sits at 3.4 per cent. She said the five per cent cut scenario is “just the next level of funding cuts.”

She said the board asked for the report to educate, not to engage in fear-mongering about a possible change in government. 

Draper has never met with Kenney to discuss education funding but says she would like to. 

Alberta is heading toward a debt of $96 billion by 2023.  Kenney said he wants to balance the budget but hasn’t specified how he wants to do it as the party is still working on its campaign platform. 

Kenney said savings could likely be found within the provincial government, which he called the most inefficient in Canada, without hurting front-line services. 

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