School boards have to look hard at future

By MURRAY CRAWFORD and RANDY FIEDLER Advocate staff Though the Red Deer Public School district can make do this year with the cuts outlined in the March 7 provincial budget, officials say in the long term they will have to examine program offerings and class size.

By MURRAY CRAWFORD

and RANDY FIEDLER

Advocate staff

Though the Red Deer Public School district can make do this year with the cuts outlined in the March 7 provincial budget, officials say in the long term they will have to examine program offerings and class size.

Cuts from the provincial budget amount to $2.5-million less in the district’s funding, which has a budget of $110 million this year.

Lawrence Lee, Red Deer public school board chair, said in the short term they can manage this kind of cut to funding, but in the long term it could have implications on programs and class sizes.

“We’re talking about adjustments,” said Lee. “We’re talking about a review of our current programming, we’re looking at how our class sizes fit at the higher grades, not the primary level.

“We’re looking at potential increases in class size.”

The biggest cut came in freezing base instructional grants for three years and many other programs were also curtailed, trustees heard at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“We anticipate we’ll have 250 new students next year and that will mitigate the hit from the budget,” said deputy superintendent Stu Henry.

“But there could be troubling consequences in the next few years. Our projections show those numbers will keep growing year after year.

“In three years, we could have 600 to 800 more students, which is another whole school.”

The province also cut the amount it pays for installing modular classrooms, costing the district as much as $350,000 for unbudgeted transportation, setup and construction costs.

“It was a big surprise for Normandeau and West Park Elementaries,” said Henry of the schools which will get two modulars each.

“We have to put those portables in because we need every classroom space we can get right now. You pile it on top of a bad budget and it’s not great.”

The board will pay using capital reserves and advise Albeta Education of concerns over the change.

“We’re losing funding in some important initatives,” said Lee.

Administrative costs were also trageted for cuts by the budget, but Lee said the school district was spared from the worst of it because of their structure.

“Our jurisdiction is one of the lowest operating governance budgets in the provice,” said Lee.

“We operate at 3.2 per cent of our overall budget. The province has now said school boards that operate at around four per cent of the budget will experience a 10-per-cent cut-back in that funding.

“I believe we’re going to be able to make do for this year coming. But certainly, does it allow us to continue to operate in that fashion? I would say no. It’s just not sustainable.”

Paul Mason, Red Deer Catholic Schools Regional Board superintendent, said they are still crunching the numbers from the budget and will share the information at the next board meeting in April.

“We’re still seeking clarification from Alberta education on a number of matters and then we’ll be able to examine our budget in detail as we prepare for our next school year,” said Mason.