March 7, 2011
Debbie Engel

Debbie Engel


EDMONTON - Drastic funding cuts to an innovative government grant program has Edmonton Catholic Schools reevaluating its budget.

Effective Sept. 1, Alberta Education's $80 million province-wide funding for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) will be slashed in half, reduced to $40 million. Edmonton Catholic, now in its fourth three-year AISI cycle, received about $4.5 million in AISI grants last year.

The provincial government announced the cuts in its budget, released Feb 24. The next day, Edmonton Catholic's senior administration, principals and school board trustees met behind closed doors to revamp their own budget.

"Everything is under the microscope when you're looking at that amount of a reduction in funding," said Debbie Engel, board chairperson for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

"Everything will be weighted differently, and the budget committee will go through a thorough examination of what these programs mean. The lens we look at everything through is what is best for student learning?"

Implemented in 2000, the goal of AISI is to improve student learning and performance by fostering initiatives that reflect the unique needs and circumstances within school jurisdictions. This has meant the inception of about 1,700 programs in Alberta schools.

"This money is for initiatives that go over and above the basic delivery of education, and allows school boards to do some really innovative things," said Engel.


Locally, AISI grants have resulted in the introduction of new math and science programs, health projects, a project to teach exceptional learners in an inclusive setting, and the introduction of chaplains in all Catholic high schools.

"This year we have high school completion coaches in every single one of our high schools. We have a wellness program, educating the body, mind and spirit of our students, all AISI projects. We have literacy programs that are funded through AISI," said Engel.

Losing half the funding will make the continuance of these programs difficult, she said. The impact will be more evident when the employees currently doing AISI projects, most of them teachers atop the payscale, are reassigned to schools.

"When we say that we are $9.5 million short in the 2011 operational budget compared to the 2010 budget, we haven't even begun to take into consideration those wage rollups, and the domino effect when you send those teachers back into the schools," she said.


Where possible, the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) expects school boards to make use of their reserves to minimize the short-term impact of government funding reductions.

The ATA anticipates the loss of as many as 300 teaching positions across Alberta. However, the actual impact on classrooms will become apparent as individual school boards make their own budget decisions over the next few months.

Edmonton Catholic Schools has 3,300 employees, which comprises 78 per cent of its total budget. With a $9.5 million shortfall, the number of teachers and support staff will inevitably decrease.

However, Engel did not anticipate any layoffs. She said job losses will come through attrition - not replacing teachers who retire or leave the school division.