School administrators are playing a guessing game as they budget for this fall without knowing how much provincial funding they will receive.
Kurt Sacher, superintendent at Chinook’s Edge School Division and president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, said the big question is whether the government will fully fund the arbitrated settlement on teachers’ wages, as well as new enrolment growth.
“I have expressed concern with the deputy minister and minister that we would like to see a little bit more clarity,” Sacher said Wednesday.
Teachers have had a six-year wage freeze and an arbitrator’s report to settle wages will be ready by the end of September.
Sacher said the classroom improvement fund and nutrition grant are expected to be eliminated.
Chinook’s Edge operates with $130 million and its new budget is being built around not receiving the classroom improvement fund, which would require some staffing adjustments through attrition.
“We’ve been assured by government that they’re working on it and we’ll get those key pieces we need. We’re just trying to be patient. But we would benefit from some general direction in a week or so.”
In a worst-case scenario, Chinook’s Edge has a very low level of reserves that would have to be used on a temporary basis, he said.
“We’re optimistic this government is not interested in significant cuts to education, so we’re hoping to see that realized as we move forward,” Sacher said.
Bev Manning, Red Deer Public Schools board chair, said they understand the new government needs time to sort through everything, but boards are still in a difficult position.
“The thing we’re most concerned about is if they don’t fund enrolment growth. Funding enrolment growth, to me, should be a given. When we’re funded on a per pupil basis, you should be funded on a per pupil basis,” Manning said.
Per pupil grants pay for teachers, and putting enough teachers in front of students is the best way to educate students, she said.
“The only way to balance the budget is cutting back on teachers. That’s what ends up happening when we don’t have enough funding, and that’s unfortunate, because that’s what affects class size. What we really want is teachers in front of students.”
She said having Red Deer-North MLA Adriana LaGrange, a former board chair of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools, named education minister is a bonus.
“I think it can only be a positive when there’s somebody there with that wealth of knowledge. I anticipate she will at least be able to offer great advice to the finance department as to what those funding issues, and ramifications of any changes, would mean,” Manning said.
In a statement, Paul Mason, superintendent with Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said his jurisdiction is optimistic the provincial government will continue to fund increases in student enrolment and look to address other chronic education funding concerns.
“We are taking a cautious and prudent approach to budgeting for the upcoming school year. Our priority is to have the least impact on classrooms and student learning as possible.
“We are fortunately in a sound financial position and will continue to strategically use our reserves to offset funding shortfalls,” Mason said.