Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools is now facing a funding shortfall that is more than double what was expected.
A $2-million deficit was anticipated because of the elimination of three grants. But when the recent provincial budget was analyzed in detail, the school division determined it was actually short $4.75 million.
“It definitely is among the largest (shortfalls) in my time as a trustee. I don’t recall anything close to this,” said school board chair Anne Marie Watson, who was elected to the board in 2010.
She said in the past, the division has experienced one per cent shortfalls, but not four per cent.
Red Deer Catholic’s 2019 budget is $114 million.
She said the deficit grew because transitional funding to address the elimination of the grants was much less than expected.
“It really doesn’t help us transition at all, and we’re left with this large shortfall.”
Watson said it was difficult adjusting the budget when the school year was already underway.
“It’s like changing your tire while you’re driving your car. You’re already on the road, and it’s difficult to manoeuvre.”
She said the first $2 million was handled with changes to professional development for staff, which reduced the need to hire some substitute teachers; moving some teachers from central office back into schools and not hiring to replace that staff; not filling some staff vacancies and using some reserve money.
The $2.75 million will be addressed by dipping heavily into reserves to cover $2 million. The rest will be found by reducing some purchases, services and expenses.
“Really looking at every budget item where we can find even small savings, because those all add up into something larger.”
About three vacant positions will also not be filled, but they do not impact teachers, she said.
She said the government has directed school boards to draw down reserves to meet shortfalls rather than laying off staff. Red Deer Catholic’s reserve is now very low.
“We wouldn’t want it to get any lower, because you do need to have reserves as a cushion.”
Watson said school jurisdictions never know what unknown costs are around the corner. For example, there is no guarantee the provincial government will cover the cost of salary increases for teachers, if that is what the arbitrator decides.
This week, Red Deer trustees unanimously voted to suspend the annual automatic review of trustee remuneration for this year. The policy will be revisited in the 2020-21 school year.
“It’s not uncommon for trustees to choose not to change their salary,” said Watson. “We’ve done that several times.”