Central Alberta school jurisdictions have notched their belts a little tighter as a result of the funding shortfall, but they were not squeezed as much as larger metro divisions.
However, the 2020-21 provincial budget is just around the corner.
Red Deer Public Schools took $3 million from its reserves to address a $6-million deficit.
“We are in an enviable position compared to a lot of other school jurisdictions, in that we built up very good reserves over the past few years, anticipating that there would be a rainy day, and it’s raining,” said superintendent Stu Henry.
He said metro boards in Alberta’s big cities did not have large reserves.
“When they were hit with this unexpected shortfall, they just didn’t have the ability to ride it out until the next budget, so they had to make a lot of the cuts this year that other jurisdictions may find themselves doing next year, or the year after.”
Henry said the district will have under $5 million left in reserves by the end of the year. That may sound like a lot of money, but its monthly payroll is more than $5 million.
The rest of the deficit was addressed by $2 million in cuts at the school level by reducing supplies. Forgoing updates to teachers’ computers, less professional development for elementary teachers, and getting rid of a staffing contingency fund reduced costs by $1 million.
He said in the past five years, the board has cut about $1 million each year out of central office costs, and the search for savings at the district will continue in preparation for the provincial spring budget.
“One thing I think that will be inevitable around the province, not just in our district, will be a return to some level of fees in the future.
“We’re not doing that this school year. But we’re certainly examining it as a possibility for future years,” Henry said.
Wolf Creek Public Schools also used reserves to address its $3-million deficit.
Wolf Creek school trustees recently decided to only hold one meeting a month instead of two, to save $15,500 annually.
Superintendent Jayson Lovell said in the past three years, five positions were eliminated at the rural school division’s central office to help reduce operational savings by $1 million.
“These are all steps taken to anticipate if we have further budget pressures, that there will be the ability to buffer those with these reductions in our current budget,” Lovell said.
“Because of the reality we’re in economically in Alberta, our funding and the resources we have, we have to just ensure we’re efficient, and effective, and targeted and proactive,” Lovell said.