The CBE is facing a very challenging 2011-2012 budget and will need to make some very difficult decisions in the upcoming months. As advocates for openness and transparency, ARTICS will be following the budgeting process very closely, but we will not be passing judgement as to whether the decisions made by the CBE are the right ones. As individual concerned citizens, members of our organization may question decisions made by our elected representatives, but these should not be construed as acting on behalf of ARTICS.
There have been many positive initiatives on the part of the CBE with regards to this year’s budgeting process that we would like to highlight.
- Getting an early start: As soon as the provincial education budget was announced, the CBE immediately began the budgeting process in order to provide the greatest amount of time possible to find creative solutions to minimize the impact on students.
- Soliciting community feedback: The CBE conducted a budget priorities survey from February 16 to 27 which they advertised on their website and in Calgary newspapers. They received 1,455 responses (64% from parents/students/other and 36% from CBE employees) which indicates the high level of interest in this process. For those who missed the survey deadline, an online feedback form has been provided.
- Creating a single budget page for easy access to online information: The link to this page is figured prominently on the CBE home page and everything that the CBE has released with regards to the budget can be found on that page.
- Attending school council meetings and meeting with MLAs: The trustees’ message at these meetings is very clear and concise. The CBE has a $61.7 million dollar shortfall due to the provincial budget. Please contact your MLA (before April 19 when the budget will be debated in the legislature) to try and get more funding.
- Being open with the impact of the new education building: At the CAPSC (Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils) public meeting on March 16, CBE Chief Superintendent, Naomi Johnson, said that the new education building accounts for $6 million or 10% of the budget shortfall.
- Looking for budget savings at the administrative and central services level first: The CBE has already identified $24.9 million in cost savings here. After using up the rest of their reserves of $12 million dollars, this will then leave a shortfall of $24.8 million dollars to be cut at the school level.
While, the above is a good first step, there is much more information that we would like to see provided in the interest of transparency and accountability. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information which has led to a lot of confusion over exactly what is happening at the CBE.
- Exactly why we have a $61.7 million dollar shortfall: We know that we have a $16 million deficit from last year and the education building accounts for $6 million, but the rest of the shortfall is being tied to wage increases which are still under negotiation. We hope that as soon as these negotiations are complete, the causes of the shortfall will be clearly presented.
- A list of exactly which positions are being cut: At the CAPSC meeting, Naomi Johnson mentioned that many health related positions such as speech therapists and psychologists are covered through contracts with Alberta Health Services and would not be affected by the shortfall. However, cuts in health supports for special needs students are being reported as being cut by all media outlets. She also mentioned that 75 AISI learning leaders (essentially teacher coaches) would be cut, yet this is now being reported as 60. We need clear and accurate information in order to assess impacts on students.
- A detailed organizational chart: As a public institution the CBE should be open and transparent as to how it is organized. There is a growing concern among the public, whether valid or not, that the CBE has too many unnecessary administrators. Although the CBE is required by law to keep it’s administrative expenses under 4%, it is unclear exactly what is included, or perhaps more importantly, what is excluded from that 4%. For example, the office of the superintendent is not considered an administrative expense, yet many in the public would think otherwise. According to the CBE website, 545 employees will be working at the new administration building. What are their positions and how many of them will be cut?
- Full results of the budget survey: The CBE released the results of the budget survey last week. Perhaps the greatest message from the results is that all stakeholders want class sizes to be maintained (ie. They do not want classroom teachers cut). However, answers to perhaps the most important question on the survey, “Where do you think the CBE could find cost savings?” were not released. Although we realize that many of those answers might not be possible to implement, releasing those results would give others ideas and stimulate more conversation as to where money could be saved within the system. Of especial interest would be the areas in which the CBE employees believe that money could be saved.
While the CBE has made an effort to solicit feedback from the community, there is still much that could be done to work with all stakeholders to come up with different ideas on how to deal with this shortfall.
- While asking as many people as possible to contact their MLAs in order to try to get more funding is a valid message, the trustees should also be initiating conversations as to what should happen should that money not materialize. We need to be having conversations about things we can control and not pin all of our hopes on a change of heart within the provincial government. We need to be sharing ideas between schools as to where savings can be found or revenue could be increased in order to fully utilize our best resource, our people, to the greatest extent possible.
We hope that everyone concerned about education in Calgary will come together to engage in constructive conversations as to how we can minimize the effects of this budget on our children to the greatest extent possible. These conversations need to be based on accurate and detailed information to reduce many misconceptions and continue moving the dialogue forward. We will be sending our list of requests for information to the trustees and the CBE and invite you to do the same. Any answers that we receive will be posted on this blog. You can sign up to receive blog updates via RSS or e-mail on the right hand side.
A Facebook community has been started up called “Stop the Budget Cuts to Education in Calgary” by an unknown concerned citizen, which we encourage you to join.
CAPSC also has a great advocacy resource page about the best ways to contact your MLA about your concerns.