Wolf Creek dipping into reserves

Wolf Creek Public Schools is projecting a balanced budget for the 2013-14 school year, but is having to reach into its reserve fund to reach fiscal equilibrium.

Wolf Creek Public Schools is projecting a balanced budget for the 2013-14 school year, but is having to reach into its reserve fund to reach fiscal equilibrium.

Provincial education cuts have left the school division covering schools in Lacombe, Blackfalds, Rimbey, Bentley and Ponoka with an anticipated budget deficit of $1.6 million for the coming school year.

The shortfall will be covered in part by surplus funds left over that had been budgeted in anticipation of teacher raises in the new collective bargaining agreement, raises that were not realized in favour of a two-year wage freeze.

Staffing reductions are part of the projected budget, with as many as 40 full-time equivalent positions set to be lost from classrooms in 2013-14.

By not renewing non-permanent contracts and through attrition, 9.9 teaching positions will be cut, and as many as approximately 30 full-time equivalent support staff positions, primarily associated with special needs education, will be lost.

Half of the support staff positions, however, could be made up for when the school year actually arrives and student numbers and programming needs are known, according to board secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson.

The division serves about 500 students with special needs requiring supports.

“The board continues to hold a concern about the rising costs and the number of students requiring special programming. The cost of inclusion seems to grow from year to year. Managing that and meeting the needs of students and providing them with appropriate opportunities sometimes is a little difficult when funds become tight, as they have,” said Henderson.

Wolf Creek projects to have approximately 396 teachers and 204 instructional support staff serving its nearly 7,000 students in 2013-14. As of now, the division is projecting a 1.3 per cent decrease in enrolment.

“(The cutbacks) will have some impacts on the classroom given that there will be less teachers around but we’re expecting to be down about 100 students as well,” explained Henderson.

In its spring budget, the province cut the fuel price contingency program, a busing subsidy that would have provided approximately $300,000 to the division. Other cuts to instruction support programming and plant operations and maintenance totalling over $1 million left Wolf Creek needing to dig into its reserves.

The approximately $1 million saved through the absence of negotiated teacher raises will go towards a number of initiatives, from $400,000 “to assist schools in transitioning to the reduced provincial funding rates” to $55,000 for the continuation of a mental health/emotional wellbeing initiative.

Overall budgeted expenses for 2013-14 are $84.8 million, down from $87.5 million the year prior.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com