Families fear overcrowding because UCP has only funded two city school projects

‘Meanwhile, we don’t have Catholic high schools in the southwest, with huge demand’

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Calgary families worry that large class sizes will grow even further after UCP’s new school announcement this week gave only full funding to two local projects.

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As part of the 2023 Budget, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced funding for 58 new and modernized schools. But only 13 are eligible for full construction funding, with the rest listed for design, planning or pre-planning money.

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Of those 13 projects, only two are registered in Calgary—the Calgary Board of Education modernization of John G. Diefenbaker High School, and a new K-9 school in the Calgary Catholic School District on Nolan Hill.

“Getting a new school is embarrassing,” said Krista Li, who sits on the West Calgary Catholic High School advocacy group.

“Our school board has lost the courage and will to advocate for us. Instead, we have a council that is willing to sit idly by and pick up the scraps.

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“Meanwhile, we have no Catholic high schools in the southwest, with a huge demand, and the existing public high schools (Ernest Manning) are overcrowded.”

Li estimates a class size of just over 40 students in the high school core course at Ernest Manning, on 17th Avenue and 69th Street SW

Ernest Manning High School in southwest Calgary.
Ernest Manning High School in southwest Calgary. Postal media file photo

But parents are also frustrated by the lack of information about average class size after UCP in 2019 removed the board’s requirement to report numbers.

When asked about the change in policy, UCP said the board was still free to report although it was not required. But CBE and CCSD say they are no longer reporting class sizes because they are not required.

“Students know, parents and teachers know exactly how big the class is,” Li said. “It’s ridiculous how the government and school boards are hiding those numbers now.”

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Li and the West Calgary Catholic High School advocacy group have lobbied for years to be pushed higher on the board’s capital plan priority list.

Last year, southwestern parents took a huge hit when the western Catholic high school moved from No. 5 in the priority list to No. 9, while another high school in the far south community of Rangeview was raised to No. 8.

According to CCSD’s latest capital plan, Rangeview SMA is at No. 5, while West Calgary is at No. 8.

CCSD officials were grateful for the new school in Nolan Hill, but also said they had not received any information from the province about how much they would receive for construction.

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“CCSD is currently waiting for further information regarding this project. Construction costs will vary with the specifications associated with the approval,” said Manique Werapitiya-Galle, spokesperson for the CCSD, added to that K-9 schools take 10 to 12 months to design followed by 14 to 16 months of construction.

CBE officials are also grateful for full funding for a modernization at John G. Diefenbaker High School. And while the project is listed as a $29 million venture, CBE officials say they haven’t received confirmation of how much money they’ve raised.

Officials say it will cost $29 million to refurbish John G. Diefenbaker High School.
Officials say it will cost $29 million to refurbish John G. Diefenbaker High School. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Although approval has been announced, the exact amount and scope of work for the modernization are not part of the announcement,” said CBE spokeswoman Joanne Anderson.

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The next steps for this modernization project will be led by Alberta Education and supported by Alberta Infrastructure and CBE to further define the scope of work and associated budget required for each project.

Until this work is complete, we are not in a position to comment on the total value or project schedule.”

CBE’s priorities mostly include modernization after officials told the board of trustees earlier this year that the province’s new funding formula provides a dollar maximum for schools with utilization of 85 percent or higher.

But Medeana Moussa, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Support Our Students, argues that UCP is forcing school boards to crowd out their schools in order to get funding.

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“This means that schools with manageable class sizes do not receive funding. . . So what does that mean for our students’ educational experience, to be in a school where class sizes can’t be regulated?”

Moussa added he was surprised that CBE – the largest school board in Western Canada, which accepted nearly 6,000 new students this year alone – was only eligible for full funding from a single high school modernization.

“For this government, in the face of such a huge surplus, to give only Calgary — one of the largest growing municipalities in the country — just one new school and one modernization is an absolute insult to Calgarians.”

Alberta Education said Thursday that new schools and modernizing those listed for planning and pre-planning are still a priority.

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The 2023 budget commits $372 million for this year’s projects, which includes $4 million for 14 different schools for planning, site analysis, and scope development, and another $1 million for pre-planning or conceptual development of the project.

However, all school boards registered for planning or pre-planning support must resubmit the project annually to be considered for full construction funding.

Calgary Board of Education Top 5 Prioritas Capital Plan:

  1. John G. Diefenbaker Middle School ($29 million modernized)
  2. Annie Gale Junior High School ($8.1 million modernization)
  3. AE Cross Junior High School ($18 million modernization)
  4. Sir John A. Macdonald Middle School ($14 million modernization)
  5. Saddleridge Middle School Gr. 5-9 ($1.2 million new school)

Calgary Catholic School District Capital Plan Top 5 Priorities:

  1. Nolan Hill K-9 School ($27 million new school)
  2. Chestermere K-9 School ($27 million new school)
  3. Redstone Elementary School ($22 million new school)
  4. Bishop McNally High School ($10 million modernization)
  5. Rangeview High School ($50 million new school)

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