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Calgary Catholic School District facing $21.5M deficit for year ahead

Faced with significant enrolment growth and inflationary pressures, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) is digging into its savings to pay for the upcoming school year. 

On Wednesday, the board of trustees approved the district’s operating budget with a deficit of $21.5 million, balanced using reserve funds. 

“Our utilities costs are up more than 50 per cent,” said board chair Shannon Cook.

“Desk costs are up, software costs are up, Wi-Fi costs are up. All those things you need to have in a classroom, they’re all up.” 

Cook says the district hasn’t seen any additional funding to assist with inflation; nor is it receiving enough funding per student. 

In the coming year, CCSD will receive $20.5 million more than in 2023-24. 

But CCSD says that’s not enough to keep up with the anticipated 2,000 new students forecast for the year ahead — or the 2,730 students added within the past year. 

Since the 2018-19 school year, Cook says, the amount of funding provided by the province to pay for an individual student’s education has barely increased. 

Province ‘stepping up’ 

Another issue is the provincial formula used to determine how much money a district receives for students who enrol midway through the school year. 

Calgary Catholic says the province’s weighted moving average created a gap of $13.8 million over the past academic year. 

The province responded with some cash: $4.2 million in a supplemental grant, which leaves much of that gap unaccounted for. 

“New students that come in above our forecast, we will often get a supplementary growth grant in the fall, but it’s $1,500, $2,000 — that’s been the trend over the last couple of years,” said Cook. 

“It’s not even close to what we get for a student that we projected for, and it doesn’t cover costs.” 

In a statement to CBC News, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said the province is “stepping up and investing more in education to help accommodate this historic growth” caused by the population boom in Alberta. 

“School divisions in Calgary have received over $100 million in new funding this year alone, and 18 new schools are on their way for the Calgary metropolitan region. That will add 16,000 needed spaces.”

The new schools being referred to are a portion of those requested by both CCSD and the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), with the latter board’s chair saying recent requests for new schools were necessary because of a “massive influx” of students.

Few are at the point of actually being built. This year, CCSD received construction funding for one new high school in Calgary. The CBE was given money to build one new elementary school. 

The impact on education 

To deal with its massive deficit, CCSD is making some adjustments. 

Entry to the LEAD and gifted programs has already been restricted. Some pre-kindergarten programs to help support English language learners will end. Kids with diverse learning needs are to be placed into regular classrooms. 

And CCSD is scraping the bottom of its reserve fund barrel. 

Last year, the district spent $18 million of its savings to keep up the quality of education it provides. 

But acting chief superintendent John McDonald says that while the reserve funds have been a saving grace in years past, the 2024-25 school year will “significantly deplete” CCSD’s savings. 

“Without an increase in funding and with dwindling reserves, the CCSD will be required to continue to make difficult operational decisions that will impact our students and families for the 2025-26 school year and future years,” McDonald said.

The Calgary Catholic School District serves approximately 63,000 students across 118 schools in Calgary and area. 

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