Edmonton Public Schools to cut 431 full-time positions hired for COVID-19 pandemic, majority teachers

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Edmonton Public Schools expects to cut more than 400 full-time equivalent positions next year, the majority of them teaching jobs.

The school board approved the $1.209-billion budget Tuesday, including $1.184 billion in revenue and $25 million in access to operating surplus. It includes 431 staffing cuts made up of 357 teachers, 85 support staff and 37 maintenance positions.

Board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said extra staff were brought in so parents had the option to move between online and in-person learning at different points during this school year. But these staff were hired with $38.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, and that money isn’t being renewed.

“That was the critical, critical money, that our division used to offer, first of all, the great choice model that we offered within Edmonton Public … offering that choice to families — no regrets — but it was expensive. It meant we had to hire additional teachers, many of them online teachers,” she told reporters after the meeting.

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“We are in a position where we hired these additional staff to support the choice model, to support our schools during our super-challenging year, and we won’t be in the position that we can do that again.”

The division plans to spend $8 million of its operating reserves for COVID-19-related expenses including online teachers, PPE, testing and cleaning supplies for the next school year.

Estabrooks said she doesn’t see the decline in staff as an overall drop in teaching positions because they were brought in for the flexible learning model. Parents were given the option to choose whether kids would study in person or online before each quarter during the current school year.

The same options won’t be offered in the fall.

K-12 students can choose to study online for the first half of the 2021-2022 school year with the expectation all classes will be in person in January. Students who want to stay online for the full year can enroll at Argyll Centre, but that will mean losing connection to their local school with no guarantee they can come back the following year.

Clarity needed on COVID-19 metrics

Students are returning to classrooms across the province this week after going online May 7 during the height of Alberta’s COVID-19 third wave. Edmonton’s public and Catholic grades 7-12 students have been online since April 22.

But in the event COVID-19 cases spike again, the board voted Tuesday to ask the province to clarify its COVID-19 metrics for deciding whether or not a division can move fully online.

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Trustee Bridget Stirling said evaluating the severity of the local COVID-19 situation shouldn’t be up to school divisions. “We are not public health authorities, we should not be being asked to make the decision on a request, whether we think that the level of COVID cases in the community is substantial.”

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said last week the education ministry decided to move learning online because of operational concerns, not because of public health reasons.

Seclusion room data

Meantime, trustees passed a motion asking for annual updates on how seclusion rooms and restraint are being used in classrooms. The board will also work on “systemic changes” so that those practices are no longer needed or used.

Seclusion rooms are only allowed to be used in crisis situations and cannot be used as punishment, according to provincial standards. Schools are required to record and review each incident and inform the superintendent.

In October 2019, the school board shot down an amendment that would put a hard deadline on stopping the use of the rooms.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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