Facing a $118-million deficit budget and declining enrolment, Chinook’s Edge School Division has been forced to cut 16 full-time equivalent teachers for the 2011-12 school year.
On Wednesday, the board of trustees of Alberta’s largest rural school jurisdiction adopted its $118-million budget with a projected $708,000 deficit. The trustees used reserves to cover the shortfall.
Board chairwoman Colleen Butler said the budget is based on conservative figures and she hopes that when the enrolment numbers come in, they will be able to hire at least some of the teachers back.
She said attrition will help reduce the impact.
“We will be OK because we do have reserves,” said Butler. “We can’t keep doing this because the reserves are going to run out. We are really hoping there will be a turnaround in the budget process from the provincial government.”
But like other school divisions in the province, the jurisdiction has been grappling with high fuel costs, cuts in funding and dwindling enrolment. The board wrote to Education Minister Dave Hancock asking for a fuel subsidy to help offset costs.
While the minister said in a meeting in Red Deer in May his department would look into it, nothing has been confirmed.
Next year, the division projects 146 fewer students in its 41 schools in communities such as Red Deer, Innisfail, Bowden, Penhold and Delburne.
Starting in September, the Innisfail Middle School and Chinook Center School will stop year-round programs because of the declining student population.
Half of the positions slated to be cut are due to fewer students in the schools.
Superintendent Kurt Sacher said based on recent years, the division is confident that enrolment will exceed its conservative estimate. In the meantime, the division is cutting costs to leave the classrooms alone.
Over the last few years, the division has managed to cut costs at the administration level and by moving programs to the Olds Career High School. This has saved the division $250,000, money that has been directed back to the schools.
Sacher said using reserves is not sustainable. At the end of this school year, the board will have $3.03 million from $4.19 million left in its reserves for next year.
“We’re very concerned that if the current funding pattern continues, we will be in difficult position as early as next spring when it comes to our ability to retain quality staff and high-quality programs,” he said.