Salary dollars welcomed by school boards

Additional provincial dollars for teacher and support staff salary increases will go a long ways towards reducing deficits in Central Alberta school divisions, say officials.

Additional provincial dollars for teacher and support staff salary increases will go a long ways towards reducing deficits in Central Alberta school divisions, say officials.

Red Deer Public Schools is welcoming Alberta Education’s surprise announcement on Wednesday that the province will cover a 2.92 per cent hike for teachers and educational assistants this fall.

It anticipates receiving an additional $1.7 million, money which would have been drawn from the division’s reserves had the province not stepped up to the plate.

The board earlier approved a budget of $99.8 million, which included a deficit of $2.3 million. The added funding will now result in a planned deficit of $607,000 for next year, which will be covered through reserves.

With good budget management, that deficit could be less, said board chairman Bill Stuebing.

“We’re in a much better position than a lot of boards in the province,” said Stuebing on Thursday.

The board decided in February it wouldn’t reduce staffing levels but instead would make up the financial difference through reserves. Not all boards were able to do that, Stuebing said.

“Many have already completed their staffing plans for the fall, having reduced their staffing complement,” Stuebing said. “They’re going to be scrambling like crazy this summer to redesign their staffing, to bring back teachers or to hire new teachers. Ours are already in place.”

The school division has about 650 teachers.

This increase in provincial dollars will be applied to the base student and class-size initiative grants, but not to the grant covering severe special needs. Funding for this grant has been frozen for two years.

“While we really appreciate what the government has done, they could have increased that one too,” Stuebing said.

Stuebing said teachers who look after severe special needs students will still get their salary increases, but Red Deer Public Schools will not receive extra money from the province to cover them. Red Deer Public Schools anticipates a shortfall of $200,000 from this, money which will come from reserves.

The district also anticipates a $400,000 deficit when the province changed how it funded busing of students.

Christine Moore, chairwoman of Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division, said the division anticipates receiving about $1.5 million.

“We’re very grateful, very happy and it makes for a great start to our new year,” said Moore.

Like the public school district, the Catholic division was dipping into reserves for the salary increases. The reserve money can now be used for other projects, Moore said.

Moore said the division had no plans to cut teachers or support staff, or make any other cutbacks affecting students.

“We were in a good position, but this is even better because it means we don’t have to dip into reserves for this,” Moore said.

Chinook’s Edge School Division chairman Ian Taylor said the extra cash is “great news” but he added the division will have to go back to the drawing board after earlier approving its 2010-11 budget, with a forecasted deficit of $1.6 million.

Superintendent Kurt Sacher said the division expects to receive $1.9 million from the province.

He said it will be up to the board on whether it wants to reduce the overall deficit or restore reserves.

“By dipping into reserves, the board avoided any worries about staff reduction,” Sacher said. “Overall, we maintained our teaching staff.”

Taylor said the money essentially helps towards reducing class sizes, primarily in the primary grades.

The school division planned to only cut teaching staff that were due to dropping enrolments. It’s expecting to be down by about 200 students this fall, compared with last year.