Red Deer Public Schools’ board of trustees has approved a $125.8-million budget for 2020-21. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)

Red Deer school boards make difficult budget decisions

Facing new funding formula for education

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools will cut teaching staff, and Red Deer Public Schools is using its rainy day fund, to balance 2020-21 budgets under the province’s new funding formula.

Red Deer public school’s board chair, meanwhile, fears more funding cuts in the future, with the government’s proposed changes for charter schools.

On Thursday, the UCP government introduced Bill 15, The Choice in Education Act, which will allow a group seeking to establish a new charter school to bypass the local school board and apply directly to the government.

Nicole Buchanan said more publicly supported charter schools will take funding away from existing education systems.

“When you lose dollars, you have to make choices, and those choices usually include cutting down on the choices that you’re offering in programming,” Buchanan said.

“Our concern is offering more choice to parents actually takes away choice from students in the classroom.”

Buchanan said Bill 15 contradicts the results of Alberta Education’s recent survey, which showed 61.6 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the amount of educational choice in the province.

“People were satisfied. So I’m not really sure about the reasoning behind why this act needs to be implemented.”

Another concern about the bill is that it will allow unsupervised, unfunded home schooling.

She said many parents have recently discovered that teaching at home is not an easy task.

“Teachers are qualified in excellence in instruction and how to deal with different learning abilities and capabilities. When you implement home schooling, (students) don’t have that same excellence in instruction offered to them.

“Alberta has an absolutely remarkable education system. To change that is concerning,” Buchanan said.

On Thursday, Red Deer public’s board of trustees approved a $125.8-million budget for 2020-21 that includes a $3-million shortfall to be addressed by using operating reserves.

To reduce operating costs, $480,000 will be cut in staffing with the district’s central services. Allocations to schools will also be reduced by $140 per student, for a total of $1.4 million.

School fees will not increase.

“It was a long and difficult budget process. While the province states it’s maintaining the overall education funding, individual divisions across the province have less money to work with.”

The new funding formula resulted in $1.7 million less for Red Deer public, and the deficit will reach $3 million, with additional funding cuts to come.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange must still approve the district’s use of reserve funding.

Related:

Alberta introduces bill to change rules on charter schools, home-schooling

Red Deer Public Schools to lay off support staff June 1

Earlier this week, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools’ trustees approved a $111.9-million budget for 2020-21.

To balance the books, the equivalent of 43 full-time teaching positions will be eliminated, along with the equivalent of 32 full-time support staff positions.

“We were faced with a funding cut in October 2019, and since we were in the midst of the school year, we chose to use reserves to maintain our programming.

“But that essentially delayed the difficult decisions we have now had to make with this 2020/2021 budget,” said Catholic board chair Anne Marie Watson in a statement.

The division’s budget included eliminating some daily, full-day kindergarten programs, and making changes to the division’s professional development model.

On June 23, trustees will decide whether St. Gabriel’s Online School will be closed in favour of providing online education through the division’s high schools and St. John Paul II Outreach School.

— with files from The Canadian Press



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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