Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Darrel Robertson sent a letter to parents of students on Monday that outlines how his school division plans to spend money that the federal government has made available to support the safe reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Edmonton Public Schools will receive $37.4 million of this funding, which is just over three per cent of our operating budget,” the letter reads. “These are welcome funds for our division.
“We are faced with many unexpected costs for the 2020-2021 school year because of COVID-19.”
READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ottawa giving provinces $2B for back-to-school safety
Watch below: (From Aug. 26, 2020) The federal government is making $2 billion available to help Canada’s schools reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would be giving Canada’s province’s and territories up to $2 billion in additional funding to help them ensure students can safely return to school.
Earlier this month, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that she had directed her department to transfer the funds to school authorities as soon as the province receives it.
READ MORE: Alberta school authorities will see some federal COVID-19 funding in September: LaGrange
She said Ottawa would be transferring some of the approximately $262 million promised to Alberta in September, while the rest will be sent “later in the school year.”
Watch below: (From Sept. 2, 2020) Alberta’s education minister talks about how federal money meant to help Canada’s schools reopen will be distributed in the province.
In his letter Monday, Robertson said classrooms are the EPSB’s top priority.
“About $20 million will flow directly to schools,” he wrote. “The funds will be made available to schools as soon as possible. In some cases, schools may hire extra staff to support students, or custodians to support our new cleaning requirements.
“We do know that any additional staff we are able to hire won’t have a significant impact on decreasing class sizes.”
Robertson said the division’s remaining $17.4 million would be spent to help cover “sick time,” to help cover technology and staffing changes related online learning, to invest more money into the EPSB’s equity fund, to help pay for PPE and cleaning supplies, to rent more portable sinks for schools and to address ventilation within schools.
“The division is also increasing the amount of time ventilation systems are running every day,” Robertson wrote.
“We will use some of the federal funds to cover the anticipated increase in utility costs.”
READ MORE: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks
With the federal funding, the EPSB will also invest an additional $2 million into developing high school online lesson plans and resources.
“We’re one week into the start of the school year and I am grateful to our staff for all the work they’ve done to get our buildings and online environments up and running,” Robertson wrote. “Your dedication in getting your kids ready for school, no matter what environment they’re learning in, is appreciated.
READ MORE: Nearly 30% of students have opted for online learning: Edmonton Public Schools
“This school year will be unlike any other, but I know that together, we are committed to ensuring our more than 105,000 students will succeed this year.”
ATA still pushing for reduction in class sizes amid ongoing pandemic
On Tuesday, Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said while he supports how the EPSB is allocating the federal funding, he is disappointed it won’t be used to reduce class sizes.
“We do need to address class size, especially classes that we’re seeing in the 40s,” he told Global News. “Those classrooms have to be split and if the federal money is not enough to cover it, then the provincial government needs to step up and spend some money in that area.
“The money shouldn’t really matter at this point. We’re in a pandemic and we need to ensure the safety of teachers and students in our buildings.”
However, Schilling said the EPSB decision to invest in substitutes is a good thing because “that can be quite a hit to the budget for some schools,” and investing in delivering education online is important as well.
He also noted spending money on portable sinks will help some schools that may have difficulty accommodating the significant increase in hand washing among teachers and students.
Schilling said while teachers are excited to be back at work, they are owed every effort to make it possible for schools to more easily comply with public health guidelines.
“I mean, they indicated all through the pandemic — and the surveying we’ve done of our membership — that they miss their students, they miss school [and] they wanted to be back and they want it to be safe,” Schilling said.
“They’re invigorated by being back with their students but they’re feeling stressed and exhausted at the end of every day because it’s a lot to do to try to maintain physical distancing in their classroom.
“It’s just been a lot to do on top of trying to teach in a pandemic with all the health protocols… They don’t want to get sick [and] they don’t want their students to get sick.”