Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWSD) is still analyzing the impact of the Provincial Budget, but one thing is clear – the numbers aren’t adding up.
Superintendent Sheldon Rowe says based on what he sees in the Provincial Budget, students will be affected.
“Based on the information provided by the provincial government, we expect to experience an enrolment increase of 2.54 per cent, which equates to 135 students,” says Superintendent Rowe. “However, our total funding is projected to increase by only $221,000. Needless to say, this increase will not cover enrolment growth and the provincially-negotiated collective agreement with teachers without a reduction in services to our students.”
Possible reductions could include cuts to non-teaching staff who work with and for students, and decreased services and supports for students. Class sizes will increase, students will face longer bus rides, and new schools will open without the equipment they need.
Adding to the issue is the difference in enrolment projections between PWSD and Alberta Education. According to Alberta Education’s projections, increases in base funding were designed to include the provincially-negotiated teachers’ collective agreement. However, when increased enrolment is factored into the equation, along with the reduction in grants, the result is a $2.15 million decrease in funding, or the equivalent of approximately 22 new teachers.
Board Chair Dana McIntosh echoes similar concerns.
“In particular, we expect this budget to significantly impact our primary and elementary students where we anticipate substantial enrolment growth. The loss of the funding will mean larger class sizes, less support staff, and fewer inclusive education supports,” says Ms. McIntosh.
“Our high schools will also be impacted by the freeze on Credit Enrolment Units (CEU) funding. The loss of CEU funding will limit our ability to support our students’ work to engage in the province’s Dual Credit Strategy Program which allows students to gain post-secondary credits while attending high school,” adds Ms. McIntosh.
Critical to PWSD is the reduction in funding for transportation. Despite a reduction in services, the Division expects to post a $225,000 deficit in transportation in the 2014-2015 school year. The proposed $83,000 reduction in the transportation grant will further restrict PWSD’s ability to transport students to school in a timely manner.
Under the new budget, transfers from operating reserves will now need to be approved by the office of the Minister of Education. Like all other Boards, PWSD’s reserves were developed over a number of years in response to the province’s inability to provide sustainable funding. As locally elected representatives, School Boards expect to access reserve funds to best meet the needs of students.
“Restricting School Boards’ access to their local reserves is contrary to the concept of Natural Person powers and ties the School Boards’ hands as they work to develop budgets that minimize the impact on local students, classrooms and schools,” says Ms. McIntosh. “As a Board, we have taken our fiduciary responsibilities to our communities very seriously. Historically, we have submitted a series of balanced budgets and would hope to continue to do so. We are very concerned by the implication that we have lost this ability for some reason, and our use of reserves will now have to be supervised by the Minister of Education’s office.”