So long surplus funds

Red Deer’s public and Catholic school boards are “optimistic” they can trim up their budgets this year without laying off staff or impacting students in the wake of provincial cutbacks.

Teacher Shannan puts namecards on desks in preparation for the return of Grade 4 students next week at Iron Ridge Elementary in Blackfalds Friday.

Red Deer’s public and Catholic school boards are “optimistic” they can trim up their budgets this year without laying off staff or impacting students in the wake of provincial cutbacks.

But this kind of optimism will be harder to sustain next year when larger budget cuts will be expected of them.

The provincial government only targeted $430 million in overall savings from this fiscal budget as a way of dealing with the province’s record $7 billion budget deficit. Next year, the government wants to reduce its total spending by $2 billion.

“We won’t be able to get that out of reserves,” predicted public school board chairman Bill Stuebing.

This year, Stuebing said his district will have to come up with an estimated $900,000 in savings out of a total budget of $97 million.

This will be the local public school board’s contribution towards Education Minister Dave Hancock’s overall goal of making up $56 million from Alberta school boards. (The entire education ministry budget needs to be reduced by $80 million.)

Removing almost $1 million from the Red Deer public schools budget “is quite a significant amount,” said Stuebing, but he believes this can be pulled from reserve funds.

The difficulty is the district’s surplus funds are scattered across a number of dedicated reserves. For instance, some money is “tied up” in finishing school renovations projects, said Stuebing who believes extricating the required amount will be problematic, but possible.

He worries about how next year’s larger budget reductions can be achieved, however, saying these cannot be made up from reserves.

Stuebing doesn’t know yet whether staff reductions will be necessary, but he said this would be the last resort. “Obviously we would try to make the changes that would have the minimum impact in the classroom.”

Red Deer Catholic schools chairman Christine Moore is similarly concerned about the size of next year’s reductions. While she’s waiting to hear more details, she said her district’s priority is always to “keep teachers in front of kids.”

Moore hasn’t yet estimated how much money will need to come out of her district’s budget this year. “We were told it would be no more than 11 per cent of our budget.

“We are not anticipating any layoffs. We believe we can contribute this from our reserves,” she added.

The reduction will amount to $1 million for the Wolf Creek school division.

In order that education won’t be impacted, the board intends to find the money in two operating reserves.

The school boards expect to find out more from the minister in a few weeks.

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