ATHABASCA - A March 27 decision by the provincial government to cut funding for educational assistants, substitute teachers, bussing and other services not currently being used while students are out of school, caught the Aspen View School Division completely by surprise.
It was just eight days before, on March 19, at the Aspen View board meeting held at Grassland School, that, working with the knowledge he had, Supt. Neil O’Shea informed trustees that Alberta Education would continue funding as per the approved budget. That changed soon afterwards though.
At the meeting O’Shea said the government recognized a need for staff continuity and the financial impact from the COVID-19 crisis.
“You receive a pot of money to run your school division,” he said during the meeting. “So, the expectation is to spend as expected.”
O’Shea told the trustees that the bus contractors would continue to be paid their daily and kilometre rate and that custodians would not be impacted.
“Custodians won’t be laid off; they may be doing other things besides cleaning, but no one will be laid off,” he said.
Education minister Adriana LaGrange said in a press release on March 28 the cuts are temporary, so money can be redirected to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and funding will be restored when students go back to class.
It is expected up to 25,000 people will be laid off across the province due to the cut, according to the Alberta Teachers Association.
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling responded to the news saying, “I appreciate we are in extraordinary times, but laying off tens of thousands of workers at this time is the wrong direction.”
On March 29 O’Shea said in an e-mail the announcement was unexpected and that it will have an impact on everyone.
“We were surprised by the announcement as we believed we would receive our full funding allocation for the remainder of the school year.
“The continuity of learning plans for students included educational assistants supporting students in a variety of ways. It is too early to say how many people stand to lose their jobs or when layoffs are set to start as we will need more time to plan strategically in response to the recent announcement.
“Our bus drivers, substitute teachers, support staff and educational assistants are important members of our school communities.
“This decision will have significant impact on our students, families and communities.”
COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.