CALGARY — Alberta’s education minister is defending the UCP budget, saying she’s surprised the Calgary Board of Education can’t balance its books with an operating budget of $1.2 billion to service 130,000 students.

In an opinion piece published in a Calgary newspaper this week, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said she didn’t expect the CBE would claim it had to eliminate staffing positions to balance its budget.

“I am very distressed by that,” said LaGrange at the Alberta Legislative Building on Wednesday.

“There is an overall concern I have with the decision making going on in the past. I really anticipate this current board has the ability to really put the student first … what matters most is teachers in front of students and the resources as much as possible going to the classroom.

“I see other boards across this province being able to find those efficiencies and I would encourage CBE to put teachers in front of students, not to reduce the staffing levels.”

The CBE declined a request for an interview Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the CBE said the provincial budget will significantly impact Calgary students and their learning.

It said base funding per student remain unchanged, but that represents 66 per cent of its overall budget. 

“The province funded enrolment growth at a cost of $29 million, they also eliminated three grants totalling $85 million and only partially replaced this cut with a one-time transition grant of $24 million,” said CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis.

The CBE said because the $32-million cut comes in the midst of the school year, the board estimates it must reduce spending by $48 million. 

The CBE said all options are being considered.

“The disruption that’s going to happen in our schools is going to be devastating,” said Bob Cocking, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38.

Cocking said $32 million is the equivalent of about 320 teachers.

“You might have four grade six classes, now they will become three,” he said.

“That teacher may be someone who is laid off or maybe they’re displaced and put into another school.

“Right now, the morale of teachers, they’re really scared, they’re really worried, is it me?” 

He said parents will also be concerned if their child will have enough one-on-one time with their teacher with class sizes expected to grow. 

Cocking said the province promised to fund status quo. He added if the province was to make changes, it should have happened at the beginning of the school year.