Adding more teachers is the top priority for Okotoks area school divisions after receiving extra funding from the federal government.
Foothills School Division received $2.864 million and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools $3.18 million.The federal government announced earlier this month it would provide $2-billion to Provinces to help offset costs from COVID-19.
“By far the biggest use, up to $2 million, is to hire teachers and support staff for the Centre For Learning@Home,” said CTR Catholic superintendent Scott Morrison. “We knew we were going to add students at CFL this year and it was going to cost us money for staff.”
He said the division had never considered moving teachers from the traditional classroom to CFL.
“Our idea was, if we do move some kids to Centre For Learning and we keep some kids in our traditional classrooms, we will lower class-sizes – and that has happened,” Morrison said.
He said while class-sizes were lowered, they were minimal, approximately one student per class level.
“Indirectly, we have cut class sizes, but to say we have done it by 50 per cent or something would be a great exaggeration,” Morrison said.
The CFL, which provides at home education for students across Alberta, went from 2,200 students to 3,500 students this school year. As a result, it may be eligible for funds from a $12-million provincial pool to offset costs for school divisions which have seen a substantial growth in enrolment from outside their boundaries.
“The school is as big as a small town now,” Morrison said. “We are really hoping the Province gives us credit for educating online kids from outside of our system.”
The division also used part of its $3.18 million federal funds to buy technology devices in the event students are forced to self-isolate.
“Our back up plan when a student has to stay at home for 10 school days is to have them stream in,” Morrison said. “We already had Chromebooks to give out to kids but we are ordering a bit more.
“We are going to order an entire class set of Chromebooks, which is 30, for every big school in the division. The focus is for teachers to enhance livestream in their classrooms for kids to use as devices from home if necessary.”
The division has also used its funds for further personal protective equipment.
Foothills is spending $1.475 million of its federal funds toward adding more teachers and education assistants.
The extra staffing will help reduce class sizes and will also add additional teachers at the Hub@Home online schooling program.
Chris Fuzessy, Foothills School Division superintendent, said with consultation with the division’s school leadership team it was able to find “pinch points” in terms of class sizes and address the situation.
“We identified any places where we could put classes,” said Fuzessy. “Some students will have new teachers and classes will get split in some schools across the division but it will not be a scenario where class size goes up.”
He said changing class sizes becomes more difficult at the junior and senior high school levels.
The division also increased the number of teachers at Hub@Home.
The division had begun staffing discussions in June for online learning, but it was difficult to estimate, Fuzessy said.
“It (staffing) has continued to increase as parents continue to make decisions for what is best for their families,” he said. “We also had some class sizes at Hub@Home that were beyond reasonable for any teachers teaching in an online environment.
“We were able to reduce class sizes there.”
As well, $700,000 is targeted for additional substitute teachers.
“This is a difficult budget line to finance,” Fuzessy said. “We have never been in a position where someone comes down with the sniffles or a sore throat and they need to go home for a period of days.
“We felt this will position us well.”
He said if the division has over-estimated the cost for substitute teachers the funds can be redirected into other areas.
As well, $369,400 will go to the division's 21 schools to meet local needs (items such as additional text books and shared equipment) and focus on supporting high quality teaching and learning.
The division is also spending $250,000 for additional cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment; $50,000 for additional custodial services and $20,000 for educational assistant substitutes.