School boards in Sylvan Lake announce layoffs due to COVID-19 funding cuts

RDCRS and Chinook’s Edge say the layoffs of bus drivers and educational assistants are temporary

Both Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools and Chinook’s Edge School Division are feeling the impacts of the provincial funding cuts.

Both school division will see a funding cut of more than $1 million. Red Deer Catholic’s funding has been reduced by $1.3 million, while Chinook’s Edge is faced with a $2.2 million cut.

To accommodate the shortfall, temporary layoffs will be rolled out in both school districts.

Bus drivers, support staff, substitute teachers, casual staff and educational assistants are all feeling the weight of funding cuts.

Chinook’s Edge Superintendent Kurt Sacher says the relationships developed everyday between these positions and the students are important and valued.

“Any adult who interacts directly or indirectly with a child has value and contributes greatly to our students and to our school division. We rely so heavily on every single one of our people to make a difference in the life of a child,” Sacher said.

The Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, announced on March 28 school districts across the province would have a reduction in funding due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The $128 million reduction to education funding in the province will instead by directed to the Province’s pandemic response.

“We are disappointed that the government has dictated that we lay off these valuable staff members, who are directly involved in supporting student learning, even in this new temporary model of online classrooms,” said RDCRS Board Chair Anne Marie Watson, adding the school board has tried to keep its staff employed for as long as possible.

Both school boards have plans in place to help ease the burden of the temporary layoffs.

Chinook’s Edge’s plan includes:

Chinook’s Edge worked to extend employment time with bus drivers until April 14th so that they will benefit from the two statutory holiday dates on the Easter weekend and to allow them time to transition.

– For all educational assistants and hourly support staff, the division has delayed these temporary layoffs until June 1. This will allow them to continue to serve students.

– Work for the division’s substitute teachers and casual staff will resume as soon as the school division returns to its normal operations. Chinook’s Edge will keep all of these staff on the roster and none of them will have to re-apply.

– All Chinook’s Edge employees who currently have benefits will have 100 per cent of the benefit premiums paid by the division throughout their temporary layoff.

– The necessary documentation required to access federal support through the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or Employment Insurance (EI) is being expedited for all staff affected by the temporary layoffs.

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools’s plan is going to be done in three phases:

• Phase 1: 60 school bus drivers laid off, effective March 31.

• Phase 2: 35 support staff whose responsibilities have been reduced in the new model of at-home delivery of learning, to be laid off effective April 30.

• Phase 3: 250 support staff to be laid off effective June 1. We anticipate that educational assistants and librarians will be temporarily laid-off in this third phase. With the changing variables that seem to be happening daily, we are unable to be more specific at this time.

“This remains a very difficult process as we know that each person affected by temporary layoffs is a valued member of our school division… We want to emphasize that these reductions in no way diminish the work that they do, the connections they have made with our students and the support that they offer to our families and school communities,” RDCRS Interim Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Finnigan said.

Chinook’s Edge facilitates the learning of roughly 11,000 students and RDCRS has 10,480 students, and in both cases the school within the divisions have moved to online learning during the crisis.

“We understand these are difficult fiscal times for the provincial government… We are very appreciative that we were able to make decisions moving forward that were in the best interest of our students and staff,” Sacher said.

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