District taps reserves to cover deficit

The Red Deer Public School District will have to dip into more than $2.3 million in reserves to cover a deficit in its close to $100-million budget next school year. This is the second straight year the district had to dip into its reserves to cover a deficit budget. Last year the board used $880,000 of its reserves after the province delivered less money than promised.

The Red Deer Public School District will have to dip into more than $2.3 million in reserves to cover a deficit in its close to $100-million budget next school year.

This is the second straight year the district had to dip into its reserves to cover a deficit budget. Last year the board used $880,000 of its reserves after the province delivered less money than promised.

This year a change in provincial transportation funding, salary increases to staff that haven’t been covered by the province and other provincial grants being frozen at the 2010/2011 level are the cause of the most recent deficit.

“It’s not a good news budget. You’d really call it a bad news budget. If you’re going close to $2.5 million in the red and drawing down that amount from your reserves it’s bad news because obviously what we’re doing is not sustainable,” said Bill Stuebing, chair of the Red Deer Public School District board.

Despite having to use reserves, Stuebing said there are no plans to cut teaching staff. There are close to 545 full-time equivalent positions or around 640 actual teachers.

“The overall principle that we were operating with was we didn’t want to end up starting to dismantle our system. We got our annual accountability report card just a few weeks ago and it’s the best we’ve ever had and one of the reasons is that our levels of student achievement are the highest they’ve ever been. It’s taken us a while to build that up and we want to keep building it,” Stuebing said.

He said in the early part of the decade cuts to health care saw cuts to nursing staff and it has taken the health-care system years to build that back.

“We didn’t want to do the same thing. You can destroy Red Deer Public Schools in one budget and then you can spend the next decade trying to build it back and we didn’t see a point in that,” Stuebing said.

Leading up to the budget, Red Deer Public School District had a town hall meeting for students in December, a town hall meeting for the public in February and spoke with principals and senior administration about potential cuts.

Stuebing said the school board directed senior administration that they could find economies, but the board didn’t want any major impact on classrooms and the board didn’t want any teaching positions cut. He said the board came to the decision on its own before the education minister suggested it.

Staff salaries account for 74 per cent of the budget, with teachers salaries expected to rise 2.92 per cent during the 2011/2012 year following the Alberta Average Weekly Earnings Index. Other staff are expected to receive a three per cent raise over the next year.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com