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Fall budget update points to more deficit woes

Red Deer Public Schools is hoping it can get itself out of a deficit situation by 2014-15 after having to dip into its reserves to balance the budget for 2012-13 and with another deficit projected for this year.

The division moved towards balance in 2012-13, with the final deficit of $1.29 million representing half of the 2011-12 shortfall.

With the fall budget update for 2013-14 showing the gap between revenues and expenses widening in the wrong direction, another year of being in the red looks likely.

“Basically the reason for the deficit is we wanted to not cut operations any more than we had to try to maintain the status quo. The fact is we’re not getting enough money from the government to keep up with that status quo,” said school board chair Bev Manning. The fall update suggests there was an overestimation in high school enrolments in the spring and thus there will be lower-than-expected government funding coming to the division. Meanwhile, staffing levels are higher than had been projected.

The deficit for the current fiscal year is projected at just over $1 million, up from the estimate of $500,000 in the spring.

While the division still has approximately $6 million in its operating reserves, Manning said a balanced budget in 2014-15 is a must.

“We’re still in a lucrative position, but we have put a little bit of a hole in that reserve. We are looking at trying to balance the budget for next year but we’ll have to make some critical and crucial decisions in that area to see where we can make come cost savings, hopefully protecting the classroom as much as we can,” she said.

At its Nov. 27 meeting, the board also was presented with a class size report for the 21 schools in the division. The report showed class sizes generally trending upwards, with totals for the lower grades failing to meet provincial targets.

While a new school is set to open in Timberlands next year, Manning said Red Deer could use one or two additional public elementary schools. The division will be putting in a request for two modular classrooms for West Park Elementary School for 2014, but acknowledges that if the province expects it to fund some of the transportation and installation costs, the jurisdiction will be unable to cover the costs and will have to pull its request.

Manning said the board strives to keep classes small, but she said there are more important factors that make up good classrooms.

“A lot of what goes into a good classroom is the makeup of the classroom and how manageable those students are in that classroom. We try to make sure that the teachers have lots of support and kids are getting the best that they possibly can.

“We believe that the key to a good education is having good teachers in front of kids,” she said.

West Park Elementary has the highest class sizes (20.1 students) for core subjects for Kindergarten to Grade 3; class sizes this year rose by an average of nearly seven students to 28 per class in Grades 4-6 at Fairview School. West Park also has the fullest Grades 7-9 classrooms, with averages of 28 students, while an average of 27.5 students fill each classroom at Hunting Hills High School.

mfish@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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