Red Deer’s two school divisions are each facing shortfalls of more than $4-million. (Black Press file photo).

Red Deer’s two school divisions each face provincial funding shortfalls of more than $4 million

Public, Catholic districts are drawing from reserves, anxious about the future

They were promised stable education dollars, yet Red Deer’s two school divisions are scrambling to deal with funding cuts of more than $4 million each.

“We are very concerned about the effect on our classrooms, our teachers, and the students and families in our division,” said Laurette Woodward, deputy chair of the Red Deer Public School Board.

“These are real people and they matter to us…”

Woodward’s school board is looking to make up for a provincial funding reduction of nearly $4.2 million — or 3.3 per cent of its budget.

This was caused by the UCP government removing three envelopes of funding — the classroom improvement fund, the class size initiative and the school fees grant.

Woodward believes the shortfall can be covered from reserve funds this year, without going back to the old system of parents paying schools fees.

But she and other trustees are “anxious” about what the 2020 budget will bring when it’s released on Feb. 27.

If enrolment growth of about 110 students a year in the district is not funded in the next provincial budget, Woodward is concerned about being able to meet diverse pupil needs.

She noted many students need additional supports in the classroom due to learning disabilities, mental health problems or the need to learn English as a second language.

“I’m concerned about what this will mean in the future … some tough decisions could be ahead for us.”

The Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division is short $4.75 million — more than double the anticipated shortfall.

Superintendent Paul Mason said his school division had predicted a $2-million reduction for 2019-20 out of an overall budget of $114 million.

“We implemented proactive measures,” including changing the division’s professional development model and reallocating staff from central office to schools, he said.

But it’s now apparent the division’s overall funding cut, under the 2019 provincial budget, is $4.75 million — or $2.75 million more than expected.

School divisions received a one-time transition grant to soften the impact of the removal of the three funding envelopes, but Mason said this is significantly less than what was lost.

Mason’s school division is now looking at covering this further shortfall by pulling money out of reserves, reducing software and materials purchases and not replacing some vacant positions.

He’s also concerned about the upcoming provincial budget, saying future funding is needed to cover enrolment growth, so more staff can be hired to keep class sizes manageable and so student transportation can be subsidized.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association this week released information obtained under a freedom of information request. It shows that while the provincial government had promised to maintain operating funds for education, school boards across Alberta are receiving a total of $136 million less in 2019-20 than in the previous school year.

“Our schools and teachers are being continually asked to do more with less. These documents clearly show… we are seeing 13,000 more students and a $136 million cut in funding,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

Red Deer Public School

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Red Deer educators are scrambling to make up for provincial funding shortfalls of more than $4 million in each division. (Advocate file photo.)

Paul Mason, superintendent of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools (school division photo).

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