As the public is bombarded with facts and figures from all sides, one essential question is not being answered. Is education adequately funded? When people stop to contemplate this, they realize that they have no idea what this means, let alone what the answer is. Nowhere has anyone stated exactly how much is required to have an adequately funded education system. All anyone seems to know is that it’s not enough. Most advocates seem to be demanding the return of the provincial education grants that were cut. However, even with the return of these grants, the Calgary Board of Education has indicated that they would still be facing a $36.4 million dollar shortfall (as opposed to the current $61.7 million dollar shortfall). So, how much is enough?
The question of how much funding is adequate can’t be answered until we know exactly how we are spending the dollars we currently have. If we know that every single dollar of education funding is being spent effectively on what stakeholders agree are most important, then we can begin having conversations about adequate funding. Until then, we are caught in a whirlwind of contradictory numbers and accusations without ever having enough information to make informed judgements.
Calgarians have been given minimal information to illustrate that education dollars are being spent on the top priority: our children. Questions go unanswered, information is withheld, and discussions about important public matters, such as fees, are happening behind closed doors. We are then asked to trust that lavish expenditures, such as the lease for the education centre (which accounts for 10% of this year’s shortfall), are justified.
Some school boards, such as the Calgary Separate School District and the Red Deer Public School District, have released detailed and transparent budgets, and dealt with current financial realities, rather than casting blame on provincial funding before even being presented with a budget. The Red Deer Public School District, whose frugal attitude at the central services level has resulted in some of the smallest class sizes in the province, will only be decreasing teaching staff by 1.8 full time positions this year (they are about one tenth the size of the CBE) and will still have reserves left for next year. The Calgary Separate School District (about half the size of the CBE) began a recent media release with, “Although this has been a difficult budget year for the province, it is not as bad as it could have been and it is not impossible to work with.” Through budget updates at every single board meeting and stakeholder engagement, they have approved a budget which will see 92 positions cut. The public has yet to see the CBE budget which anticipates losing 396 positions, 172 at the central services level and another 224 at the school level. We expect the CBE to release a budget as clear and detailed as those above to account for its billion dollar expenditure.
Fundamental to our democracy is citizen engagement. Elected representatives must be held accountable for the decisions that they make on our behalf. There are many groups (eg. opposition parties, school boards, the Alberta Teacher’s Association, etc.) to hold the province to account, but not many exist at the school board level. ARTICS was formed because we believe that trustees need to be held accountable for their governance of Calgary’s public education system. ARTICS continues to have an impact and we encourage you to participate.