Grande Prairie, AB – The Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWPSD) Board and Administration met electronically during the course of last week to determine the impacts of the temporary adjustments to K-12 education funding, announced by Alberta Education on Saturday, March 28 as part of the province's response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting indefinite cancellation of classes.
While the grant for school maintenance is being maintained, funding for transportation and instruction is being reduced while in-person classes remain cancelled.
Transportation Grant reduced by 51 per cent
"The Ministry is supportive of Board autonomy, but we were unable to find sufficient resources to cover the 51 per cent reduction to our Transportation Grant for the months of April, May and June," said Superintendent Bob Stewart. "As a result, we regrettably initiated the process of communicating temporary lay-off decisions to our bus drivers. We are able to continue drivers' medical benefits during the layoff period and throughout the summer months."
PWPSD owns and operates its own fleet of buses, and employs 103 permanent school bus drivers. The calculation for the province's reduction to transportation funding is related to fuel and bus driver salaries.
Immediately following the indefinite cancellation of classes, some PWPSD schools had enlisted bus drivers to deliver course packages to families with limited access to technology. The significant reduction to the Transportation Grant brought an end to home deliveries on Thursday, April 2.
In their announcement on March 28, Alberta Education noted that staff impacted by the funding adjustment will qualify for the federal government's enhanced employment insurance program and other support programs for Canadian workers.
Base Instructional Grant reduced by 14 per cent
A second area impacted by the province's temporary adjustment to funding involved the potential reduction of Educational Assistants (EAs) and other Support Staff, resulting from a 14 per cent reduction to school boards' Base Instructional Grant for May and June. Boards were expected to reduce expenditures to align with the temporary funding reduction by issuing layoffs to EAs and Support Staff who do not provide special needs services to students.
EAs and Support Staff at PWPSD schools are active in their ongoing support to teachers and students during this period of home learning.
"With our regular annual budgeted costs for substitute teachers and substitute EAs not being used during the indefinite cancellation of classes, along with further reductions to administrative costs, and schools returning a portion of their site operating budgets that would normally be spent on student resources when regular classes are in session, the PWPSD Board and Administration is relieved to report that, at this time, while work is available, we are able to maintain existing contracts for any members of our EA, Library and Office Support Staff groups," said Superintendent Bob Stewart.
Temporary funding adjustment to be reinstated
With the decision to temporarily lay off bus drivers, PWPSD Administration restated the current direction from Alberta Education which indicates that reductions to the two grants will be reinstated once in-person classes resume.
"We are dismayed by this latest development, and it saddens us greatly to have to make any changes to our staffing during this difficult time," said PWPSD Board Chair Kari Scheers. "We are proud of the dedication and loyalty of our bus drivers. We want them to know that a reduction in provincial funding does not change who they are in our organization. Each PWPSD staff member is important by the fact that each one of them plays an important role in the lives of our students."
"The health and wellness of our staff, students and their families remains our number one priority, not only through this ordeal, but every day," adds Superintendent Bob Stewart. "It will be a good day when we can bring our valued bus drivers back to work, when in-school classes can reopen, and when we can all put COVID-19 behind us."