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Funding the Front Lines

January 17, 2017
 

Executive Summary: Funding the Front Lines

Is high administrative spending what is best for students?

Key facts about Calgary Board of Education (CBE) spending:

  • If CBE spending on administration and school supports was on par with the ratio at the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD), over $110 million more in funding would reach CBE classrooms each year.
  • An average elementary school with 650 students has $1.3 million withheld each year by the CBE for head office functions. Kept in the school, those funds could pay for an educational aide in every classroom.
  • In 2015-16, out of $157 million in CBE school support spending, only $4 million went to central special needs services.
  • Of the $14 million the CBE spent on rent for its downtown headquarters in 2015-16, over 70% was allocated to "other programs" instead of administration.

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Ensuring that all classrooms are adequately resourced is an essential part of school-level support for both teachers and students. Although the refrain for sufficient, predictable government funding is heard at every turn as the solution to every issue in education, little attention is being paid to where the funds already being provided are going.

In the case of the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), its high administrative burden relative to the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) means that significant resources are failing to reach the school level. The CBE’s much higher percentage of administration/support costs means at least $110 million is not reaching the classrooms, but would if they emulated the CCSD’s commitment to low overhead.

Where could this additional funding be used?

  • Reduce class sizes for high school. Currently core classes in high school often number 35-40 students. The CBE could restore the inadvisable 11% funding cut made to high schools in 2013.
  • Fund an educational aide in the majority of elementary classrooms.
  • Ensure every junior high school has computer/technology program options.
  • Place a 3D printer in every elementary school, like China is doing.
  • Eliminate the need for parents to fundraise for basic materials: reading books, math manipulatives, lunch tables (needed so children do not have to eat lunch on the floor), science supplies, art supplies… and a whole host of other items that are rightly considered basic materials.

Important points

  • The average elementary school of 650 students has $1.3 million in funding removed for head office functions. Ask any teacher what a difference ten more teachers in the school would make to their students!
  • In the 2014-15 school year, only 48% of additional funding made it to the school level, according to the CBE’s own published documents. At a meeting with Minister Eggen in September 2015, the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils (CAPSC) advised that only 52% of new funding his office provided was reaching the school level and asked for his assistance in solving this issue. Although the Minister expressed concern, to date, there has been no action taken by the Minister on this important issue.
  • CBE’s new funding document shows that per student funding actually went down by 1.7% for the 2016-17 school year – meaning less money for supports, materials, and supplies.
  • High school career and technology funding was further reduced – for a total 11% reduction over three years.
  • The way administration expenses are reported makes it impossible to see what the true administrative costs are.
  • An internal CBE trustee document shows that only $4 million out of $157 million is spent on centralized special needs out of ‘school supports’; this low amount is not the impression CBE trustees have given to parents and explains why teachers are frustrated with the level of special needs support.

Poor trustee oversight

  • CBE trustees are routinely given budgets on a Friday, to be discussed and voted on the following Tuesday. One business day is not enough time for trustees to provide real oversight, nor is it enough time for the public and parents to discuss questions and concerns with their trustee.
  • In the fall of 2016, trustees refused to even debate a "sunshine list" that would provide transparency of salaries and benefits – and kept the voting record secret when faced with criticism. Required disclosure of compensation for top earners is already standard in many other provinces.
  • CBE fees are 50% higher than the other metro school boards – parents pay an unacceptable price for basic access to public education- particularly in the worst recession in twenty years. A family with two elementary children who bus pays over $1,200/year, while a parent with two high school students pays over $1,700 for busing and basic high school fees. While Minister Eggen promised a year ago to bring in guidelines about what can be charged for school fees, to date, nothing has happened.
  • CBE refuses to publish school budgets. While trustees have repeatedly stated that parents should be able to obtain budgets from their individual school, the reality is that parents have a difficult time getting access to budgets in a timely manner.

Conclusion

Trustee oversight has been sorely lacking in these critical matters. We hope Trustees make the needed changes to ensure that our students are properly supported moving forward. Trustees need to complete an independent, third party ‘use of funds’ review, stop making decisions in secret, disclose school budgets, participate in the sunshine list, and provide information on a timely basis when asked.

Parents have sought the Education Minister’s help before in this regard, to no avail. Families who need help the most have little time to spare for political lobbying. We ask the Minister to request a third party, independent review, with Kids Come First as a full partner in the review to ensure that parents and children’s needs are fully represented.


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