CBE takes M out of reserves to cover staff costs, enrollment growth

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Faced with unprecedented growth, complex classrooms and new building projects, public school officials are forecasting a draw of $34 million in operating and capital reserves this year.

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According to the Calgary Board of Education second quarter budget update before trustees this week, the administration anticipates taking $12.3 million from operating reserves and $21.9 million from capital reserves to balance its $1.15 billion budget.

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In the report, increased operating expenses are tied to additional staffing costs due to enrollment growth, complex classrooms, pandemic learning losses and a salary hike for teachers.

In what was seen as the first school year without any COVID restrictions since the pandemic began, finalized enrollment data at the CBE last October confirmed the addition of 5,886 students — four times the expected 1,500 — bringing total enrollment to 131,215.

As well, the CBE added hundreds more newcomers over the past year, with 3,458 non-Canadian students now registered, including 516 refugees and 740 students arriving from Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.

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During the height of the pandemic, the CBE had only 122,641 students enrolled for the 2020-21 school year, significantly less than the previous year’s pre-pandemic enrollment of 125,809 in 2019-20.

In addition to growth and classroom complexity, the CBE also paid out a 1.25 per cent salary hike for teachers as part of a ratified negotiated settlement last June.

Alberta Education says the CBE will receive over $36 million to support that settlement.

“As well, CBE will soon receive an additional $20 million in operating funds due to higher than projected enrollment in the current school year,” said Emily Peckham, press secretary for Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange.

“Next school year, their operational funding is expected to increase by $110 million, 9.3 per cent, due to increase through the 2023 Budget. Their enrollment is only projected to increase by 2.7 per cent next school year.”

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Still, more than $25 million is anticipated to remain in the CBE’s operating reserve coffers by the end of its fiscal year in August, and up to $27.9 million will remain in capital reserves, both within provincial guidelines.

All use of reserve funding being forecasted must be approved by the Minister of Education before it is finalized.

With the second half of the 2022-23 fiscal year still remaining, CBE only expects to reach a deficit of about $3.7 million by August 2023 which they hope to balance through administrative efficiencies.

The CBE will release its budget for 2023-24 at the end of May, in line with an expected 5.2 per cent increase in funding from the UCP’s Budget 2023 — a significant hike from the flat funding received over the past two years.

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