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Calgary Catholic School District faces $21.5 million deficit next year

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Faced with sharp increases in enrollment and inflationary pressures, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) is dipping into its savings to fund the upcoming school year.

On Wednesday, the board approved the district's operating budget, which included a $21.5 million deficit that was offset by reserves.

“Our utility costs have increased by more than 50 percent,” said CEO Shannon Cook.

“The cost of desks has gone up, the cost of software has gone up, the cost of Wi-Fi has gone up. All of these things that you have to have in a classroom have all gone up.”

Cook says the district has not received additional funding to combat inflation and that per-pupil funding is not sufficient.

Next year, CCSD will receive $20.5 million more than in 2023-24.

But according to CCSD, that's not enough to accommodate the 2,000 new students expected next year — or the 2,730 students added last year.

Since the 2018-19 school year, Cook says, the amount of funding provided by the province to finance individual students' education has barely increased.

Province “increases its strength”

Another problem is the province's formula for determining how much money a district receives for students who enroll in the middle of the school year.

Calgary Catholic says the province's weighted moving average created a $13.8 million gap last academic year.

The province responded with cash: $4.2 million in the form of a supplemental grant, which leaves much of this gap unaddressed.

“For new students whose numbers exceed our forecast, we often receive an additional grant in the fall, but it is between $1,500 and $2,000 – that has been the trend in recent years,” Cook said.

“This is not even close to what we expected to get for a student, and it doesn't even cover the costs.”

In a statement to CBC News, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said the province will “step up its efforts and invest more in education to accommodate this historic growth” caused by Alberta's population boom.

“School districts in Calgary have received over $100 million in new funding this year alone, and 18 new schools are planned for the Calgary metropolitan area, creating 16,000 needed places.”

The new schools are part of the schools requested by CCSD and the Calgary Board of Education (CBE). The CBE chair said the recent requests for new schools were necessary due to a “massive influx” of students.

Only a few of these buildings are currently under construction. This year, CCSD received funding for a new high school in Calgary. CBE received funding to build a new elementary school.

The impact on education

To cope with the enormous deficit, CCSD is making some adjustments.

Access to the LEAD and gifted programs has already been restricted. Some preschool programs supporting English learners are being discontinued. Children with different learning needs are being sent to regular classes.

And CCSD has exhausted the last of its reserves.

Last year, the district spent $18 million of its savings to maintain the quality of education offered.

But acting principal John McDonald says that while reserve funds have been a lifesaver in recent years, the 2024-25 school year will “significantly reduce” CCSD's savings.

“Without increased funding and with dwindling reserves, CCSD will continue to make difficult operational decisions that will impact our students and families in the 2025-26 school year and beyond,” McDonald said.

The Calgary Catholic School District serves approximately 63,000 students at 118 schools in Calgary and the surrounding area.