Calendar changes

To say there’s a lot happening in education right now would be an understatement. Evidence of the change and how EPSB is preparing for it can be seen during our twice a month public board meetings.

During these meetings Trustees are making key decisions and talking about expected funding shortfalls that will affect students and classrooms next year.

As outlined in a recent letter home to parents, EPSB is planning for a shortfall of about 100 million dollars.

What this means is that everything is on the table. In other words, the way in which the division currently operates has to change dramatically; we have no choice while facing a frozen education budget and a projected enrolment of an additional 3,000 students.

This reality prompted a motion by Trustee Ken Gibson during the January 28 public board meeting to direct administration to survey parents and staff on preferences on how a calendar with five fewer instructional days could be structured.

Therefore, I move that administration conduct a survey or otherwise gather parent and staff input regarding preferences on how a calendar that has five fewer instructional days, while maintaining overall instructional time and the quality of our students’ education could be structured and bring that information back as a recommendation report to the board.

Trustees voted 5-2 (two Trustees were absent) in favour of proceeding with a survey asking staff and families where best to place the additional days. I voted in favour, recognizing that adding an additional five days to the school calendar presents both benefits as well as challenges.

The benefits, as outlined in an information report received by the board on January 14 include:

  • creating more opportunities for staff to access professional development
  • “positively impact student learning by reducing the amount of time that classroom teachers are absent from class”
  • a positive impact on student and staff wellness.

The biggest challenge is how parents will accommodate these additional days, find affordable childcare and make arrangements for their children when they are not in school. I am pleased that both Trustee Gibson’s motion as well as the information report presented to the Board mention the idea of working with partners in the non-profit sector and with EPSB’s Metro Continuing Education to help facilitate day camps or other childcare options.

Driving all of this discussion is the reality that this decision can save Edmonton Public about $2.7 million dollars. This number includes transportation savings of $150,000/day as well as a reduction of supply costs, or hiring substitute teachers, for days when students are in school and teachers participate in professional development. It is also expected that savings will also be realized through a decrease in staff sick days.

I see changes to the calendar as an innovative way to help keep as many dollars as possible in the classroom. This, as a Board of Trustees, is our goal right now. When everything is on the table we must protect our classrooms.

A survey will be released shortly, and while some Trustees expressed concern over a tight timeline of consultation with parents, I think it’s important to note that we are in a situation where we are having to make some tough decisions in less than ideal circumstances.

We are asking parents to come along with us on this journey and participate in a survey that contemplates where it would be best to place these additional days off school.

Next steps are the release of that survey, followed by a recommendation report due back at public board in a few weeks time.

I encourage anyone who has questions or concerns to reach out. This is a decision that I know will affect many families, and I look forward to hearing from you on how the days can be best allocated within the school calendar.

To view this year’s school calendar, click here

To view the calendar under consideration (2020-2021), click here

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