Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci (centre) will announce Alberta’s budget on March 16. Here he helped a student with the ribbon cutting in January at the new Beacon Hill Elementary School in Sylvan Lake as Chinook’s Edge officials and MLAs looked on. (Advocate file photo)

Central Alberta school districts look to provincial budget for more details on fees

Province plans to eliminate basic school fees for parents

Local school boards are hoping for more information in the March 16 provincial budget to better understand the impact of a proposed bill to reduce school fees for parents.

“From our perspective, their intentions are good … It does make sense for families not to have to pay for those instructional material fees. However we have come to rely on them over time and so we’ve consistently advocated that government fill the gap,” Chinook’s Edge school Superintendent Kurt Sacher said Wednesday.

The NDP government announced the bill last week that will eliminate fees to parents for instructional supplies or materials such as textbooks, workbooks, printing and paper costs. As well, transportation fees for eligible students travelling to their designated school, if it is more than 2.4 kilometres from home, will not be charged.

It will amount to about 25 per cent of the fees that school boards receive. The province has indicated the cost will be about $50 million and will come from savings within government.

“We’ve not been given the specific details of how that money will be dispersed,” Sacher said. The fees involved would be about an $800,000 loss to Chinook Edge’s budget.

Will there be enough money from the province to compensate the district, and if there isn’t, there are implications for students, programs, and staff, he said.

Chinook’s Edge school board has been vigilant about not charging a transporation fee to parents when students live over 2.4 km from school. But other school districts that have been charging could end up getting compensation from the province, and that doesn’t strike Chinook’s Edge as something that’s fair, Sacher said.

Parents in the school district currently pay no fees for kindergarten. The annual basic fees for Grades 1-6 are $64, Grades 7-9 are $79, and Grades 10-12, $104.

Bev Manning, Red Deer Public Schools board chair, said the province’s plan to eliminate the fees is welcome news but there is concern about where the province will find the money to compensate school districts.

“We really support the position of the government to keep the cost of education to parents as low as possible.” Red Deer Public Schools would need about $1.4 million to eliminate the fees.

The public district has already eliminated all fees at the elementary level but there are transportation fees to help with the transporation budget deficit.

Last year the district introduced one basic fee for high school students of $180 per year, although there are additional fees for things like field trips. Middle school fees still vary with different courses.

Guy Pelletier, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools board chair, said it’s good if the province replaces the fees the district can no longer collect.

“So no net gain or no net loss for the division, but certainly a savings for parents, which is good news.” The basic fees amount involved is about $600,000 for the Catholic district, he said.

Basic fees vary, depending on grade. They are $30 for kindergarten $65 for elementary, $100 for middle school, and $150 for high school.

Some of the unknown details include exactly how the province would compensate school boards.

Pelletier said one way might be to cut a cheque for what a school division now charges, but this would create an advantage for those that currently charge more.

Another way might be to average the fees charged by all of Alberta’s 62 boards, so everybody gets more equal treatment.

“That level of detail we don’t know,” he said.

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