The Battle River School Division (BRSD) is still undecided on how to address a significant loss in funding for the current school year.
Trustees held vigorous discussions regarding the more than $1.6 million shortfall it faces for 2019-2020 at its meeting on Nov. 28, though any final decisions on where to find any savings or make cuts will come when the board meets again on Dec. 12. The province had provided school boards with a Jan. 6 deadline for budgets to be finalized.
Board chair Norm Erickson stated, through a release, the BRSD had a plan in place in anticipation of a decrease in funding, due both to messaging from the province and the division’s own projected enrolment figures, down 140 students from the 2018-19 school year.
“Rural Alberta is in a time of population decline,” Erickson said.
“In BRSD, our student numbers are going down. This year we have more students finishing Grade 12 than starting Grade 1, so we knew we had to make a downward adjustment in spending. We did that. But now we’re learning we’ll have other funding losses as well.”
Among the topics discussed at the meeting were what additional spending reduction would need to be implemented with the funding loss, how best to cover the five-year roof repair plan on existing buildings, making teaching staff adjustments at various schools.
In total, BRSD lost over $3.62 million from three grants cut in the provincial budget released Oct. 24, while only receiving back just over $2 million through the government’s one-time transition funding.
In addition to that loss of instructional funding, the BRSD’s plant operation and maintenance funding was reduced by $80,000 because of the decline in the 2019 enrollment and they face a $700,000 increase to their insurance premiums.
“The insurance change is a real challenge for us,” said BRSD communications directory Diane Hutchinson.
“It means a three-quarters of a million dollar shortfall in our facilities budget, which will directly impact our division’s ability to provide maintenance services to schools.”
The result of that shortfall has been the loss of two frontline maintenance personnel and likely deferral of some roof repair projects that cost about $300,000 each.
BRSD assistant superintendent of business Imogene Walsh also mentioned at the meeting that the province will be less likely to provide capital funds for schools in need of substantial repairs that have low utilization rates.
She also explained that about 11 per cent of the division’s fleet of 117 buses are 15 years old and reaching the end of their lifespan. And with each bus costing about $110,000 — that’s almost $1.5 million that will need to be found soon.
School divisions from around the province also heard at a recent Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) conference to not expect funding increases until after the next provincial election expected in 2023. Alberta Education is also currently reviewing how they allocate funding, which is likely to affect the budget for the next school year.
According to Hutchinson, “(The trustees) have acknowledged that based on these realities, ‘everything’ is on the table for the future.”
This includes a look ahead to the next school division election in 2021, where BRSD is seeing if it would be viable to have fewer trustees given that the division has about 2,000 fewer students than when the division was created in 1995.
The 2020-21 draft budget will be ready later in the spring for further discussion.