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Financial pain for Calgary Catholic schools, ‘difficult decisions’ loom

With rising costs and growing enrolment, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) Board of Trustees will use $21.5 million of district reserves to cover a shortfall in provincial funding.

“This level of funding provided by the province falls substantially short of meeting the needs of our students,” board chair Shannon Cook told reporters.

On Thursday, the board approved the CCSD’s operating budget for 2024-2025, with $688.5 million in revenues, up 5.8 per cent from last year, and $710 million in expenditures, a rise of 6.3 per cent from the previous budget.

“The amount of the funding that we get is problematic. First of all, it has not changed since 2018-2019, so we had about $9,608 per student that was given… it’s at $9,618, so no significant change since the school year 2018-2019,” said Cook.

“Our utilities are up more than 50 per cent, everything’s up, desk costs are up, software costs up, Wi-Fi costs are up. All those things you need to have in a classroom, they’re all up, so we haven’t had an increase to deal with that.”

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CCSD officials noted funding from Alberta Education rose by $20.5 million over 2023-2024, but due to the funding model used by the province, 1,562 students will be left unfunded in September. This cost is partially offset by supplemental enrolment growth grants, but overall, there is $9.6 million shortfall.

In its 2024 budget, the Alberta government announced $9.3 billion in funding for K-12 education, a rise of 4.4 per cent.

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In a statement to Global News, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said Calgary is experiencing record population growth, and the province will increase its funding for education.

“Over the next three years, we have planned to invest more than $1.2 billion, which will go directly to hiring more teachers and other educational staff. We’re stepping up and investing more in education to help accommodate this historic growth.

“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.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta budget includes ambitious plans to increase school spaces in Calgary and area according to government'

Alberta budget includes ambitious plans to increase school spaces in Calgary and area according to government

Medeana Moussa, Support our Students executive director, says schools across the province are being asked to do more with less funding.

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“We’re running out of physical space, we’re running out of enough teachers because we’ve got classrooms that are over 40 kids. We are running out of technology access.

“We’re at a breaking point and the government needs to sufficiently fund education or kids will not be getting the high quality education that I think all of Albertans believe strongly in for our society.”

Cook said the school district is currently facing difficult financial decisions. “The problem is you can only stretch resources so far, and at this point we have stretched the resources so far that the quality of the resources may not be the same as they once were.”

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The CCSD predicts more than 2,000 new students will be enrolled by the end of September.

“The problem is that next year might be tougher. So, things like classroom sizes – we haven’t touched classroom sizes. Will we have to look at that next year if we don’t get additional funding? We may have to look at that if we don’t get additional funding.”

The CCSD is the biggest Catholic school district in the province, serving around 63,000 students at 118 schools in Calgary, Airdrie, Cochrane, Chestermere and the Rocky View County.

Former CCSD Superintendent Rehired

In a letter sent out to parents on Friday, the CCSD Board of Trustees announced Dr. Bryan Szumlas will return as chief superintendent and will start a new two-year contract effective May 27.

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In March, Szumlas resigned from the position, with the board citing personal reasons for his decision.

The board wrote they will not disclose any further details about these matters to respect the privacy of Szumlas.

“The acceptance of Chief Superintendent Szumlas’ resignation and subsequent rehiring was thoroughly reviewed and considered. We always work to make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of our students, staff and families.”

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