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Edmonton school divisions call for construction funding as students face overcrowded classrooms

The mother of an Edmonton Grade 9 student looking ahead to a potential logistical nightmare next fall says she expects her child will face packed classrooms — and the prospect of a long commute to his new high school.

“Standing room only for the chemistry lab; we’re told it’s first come first,” Jodi McDonald told CTV News on Monday.

Both Edmonton’s public and Catholic school divisions say big investment is needed in the next provincial budget to address overcapacity issues.

That comes as no surprise to McDonald, whose son’s designated school is at 123 per cent capacity. If he doesn’t succeed in a lottery to go to it, his alternate choice for school is at 111 per cent.

If her child doesn’t get into his designated school, McDonald says travel time to his second choice would be lengthy.

“With no rush hour, it would take at least one hour to get to school,” she said.

Public enrollment rises 5,000 annually

The McDonalds are one of many Edmonton families forced to bid in lotteries to attend their designated school due to overcrowding.

According to classroom size data recently compiled by Edmonton Public Schools, the division has enough students to fill 10 new schools.

“We could fill those today based on the number of students we’ve received just in the past two years,” trustee board chair Julie Kusiek told CTV News Edmonton in an interview on Monday.

The division is seeing enrollment grow by about 5,000 each year.

While space is short across the division, the high school level is experiencing the greatest crunch. The average class size in Grades 10-12 has grown over the past three years, from 26 to 28 students. In those grades, the average class size in core subjects is over 30.

Even with the brand new Elder Dr. Francis Whiskeyjack School opening in southeast Edmonton in September, and a few other projects at various stages of funding, “we expect to be completely full across all high schools in the division by 2027,” Kusiek said.

40% of Catholic schools over capacity

Edmonton Catholic Schools says 40 per cent of its school buildings are at or over capacity.

It told CTV News Edmonton it has run out of options to find space or reduce class sizes; the only solution it sees is building new facilities.

“Our capital plan highlights the urgent need for full funding of six new schools and one replacement school this year,” Sandra Palazzo, board chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools, told CTV News Edmonton.

“The six new schools all serve areas in and around the Anthony Henday ring, where it’s estimated that 70 per cent of our students live, but we only received partial funding for two new schools and for the one replacement school.”

In the public division, Kusiek said, “Some of the things that we’re seeing happening is around scheduling. We’re seeing, perhaps, a foods lab also being used for math class, or in one school I visited, the library may have concurrent classes in there.”

A statement from Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides on Feb. 12, 2024, about the potential for more funding to build more schools in Edmonton. (CTV News Edmonton)When asked about his plan for Budget 2024, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides pointed in a statement to the funding dedicated last year to hiring more staff and building more schools.

“I will be working to build more schools in our growing communities,” he promised.

Budget 2024 will be released this month.

Schools take three to five years to build.

“The trickle-down impact of ballooning class sizes over a long period of time, like we’re seeing, is obviously the quality of individual attention that each student can get from the educator,” Support Our Students Alberta communications director Wing Li said.

“Continually passing on the disruption, or not catching those gaps for each student, that can snowball over multiple grades.”

She said the problem can be found across the province and is not unrelated to the increasing complexity of students’ needs and the significance of adequately funding support staff like educational assistants, therapists and speech pathologists.  

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