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School board workers in Alberta have been delivering a clear message to the province’s Commission on Learning: Adequate funding is the single most important factor in supporting quality education.

CUPE locals across the province have been making presentations to the commission at hearings in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Fort McMurray, relating ‘stories from the front line’ that illustrate the impact of under-funding.

Last week Barbie Staples, President of CUPE Local 3484 in Leduc, told the commission that too few support staff combined with ever-increasing demands means that many students with special needs are short-changed.

Bruce Cutting, President of CUPE Local 784, representing trades and maintenance workers in Edmonton, highlighted the extra stress on the system that flows from school-based budgeting.

“We told them clearly, with all kinds of evidence, that school maintenance is the first thing to go in a tight budget situation. This does not serve anyone well,” he said.

These concerns were echoed by Doug Luellman, President of CUPE Local 474, representing Edmonton school custodians. “Schools that suffer from inadequate cleaning and maintenance of heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have increased health problems – increased reports of asthma, allergies and sick building syndrome,” he said.

Under-funding has grown so severe schools “are relying on students purchasing junk food to support school activities,” according to Trudy Grebenstein, President of CUPE Local 3550 in Edmonton, representing teaching assistants, library technicians, technicians, cafeteria and clerical staff. “Teachers and teacher assistants now bring supplies from home to support student activities and parents are forced to fund-raise to support their schools.”