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Federal COVID funds helpful: area school officials

CESD, Catholic division get $7.2 million
MVT Sundre River Valley students bus
Students at Sundre's River Valley School, all appropriately masked as per provnincial regulations, get off a school bus and head to classes on Sept. 1. Classes in the 11,000-student Chinook's Edge School Division were suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Dan Singleton/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD) and Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS) will be receiving a total of $7.2 million in federal education funding to help cover COVID-19-related costs.

Officials at both divisions are calling the new money needed and welcome.

The funds can be used for cleaning and safety considerations for schools and school buses, staffing, support for special needs students, adapting learning spaces and personal protective equipment, and for online learning and teacher training.

Based on a per-student model, CESD's portion is $3,898,300 and RDCRS's portion is $3,495,100. Both totals represent about $350 per student.

The funds will be transferred in two phases, one this month and one later in the school year.

Kathleen Finnigan is the acting superintendent of the 10,400 student RDCRS, which includes schools in Olds and Innisfail.

“We are pleased that the federal government provided $3.5 million to our school division for COVID-19 relief and that we have the autonomy from the provincial government to distribute the funds according to our needs,” said Finnigan.

The division is examining how exactly how the funds will be used, she said.

“Our senior administration is currently working diligently on a plan on how we will spend these dollars,” she said.

Kurt Sacher is the superintendent of CESD. He calls the federal funding “tremendous news” for the division.

“Where we may have had to shuffle kids around and reduce staff, we feel we will now be far less likely to have to do that,” said Sacher. “We will be able to run with smaller class sizes and we will face less pressure to have to disturb the learning environment.”

The funds will also help cover increased custodian and other costs, he said.

“We want to make sure that we have daytime custodians and have the level of cleanliness required,” he said. “We’ve spent a ton of money on hand sanitizers and masks that go beyond what the government has provided.”

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said she is “pleased to set broad criteria for use” of the new funding.

Opposition education critic Sarah Hoffman said the province should be using the federal funds to reduce class sizes.

The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) is calling on school divisions to use the funds to increase teacher, custodian and educational assistant staffing levels.

“Funding should be focused on significant staffing needs,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.