Another budget year means another round of planned teacher cuts for the shrinking rural Clearview School Division.
The division that encompasses Stettler, Erskine, Donalda and other communities in East Central Alberta has seen enrolments decline over the last decade, and with fewer students comes less provincial funding. And as has become the norm for the division, services are having to be cut while budget deficits bring down the jurisdictional reserves.
Clearview is projecting a deficit of $661,000 for the 2014-15 budget year and expects to cut just over seven teaching positions. The deficit will further eat away at Clearview’s reserves, which will dip below $2 million by 2015.
“We’ve been drawing down our reserves the last few years and that’s a planned thing, but we’re wanting to put the brakes on that,” said superintendent John Bailey.
“This is a long trend in rural Alberta; we’re probably talking a 50-year trend — rural populations are declining. You have to ask yourself how low is too low? There must be a stopping point somewhere, because you need ‘x’ number of people to live in an area and run farms and the rest of it,” said Bailey.
There was a motion from a board trustee in 2012 to consider the closure of low-enrolment schools in Byemoor, Brownfield and Donalda — where per-student education costs are highest — but the effort got no support. While the board and division’s current commitment is to keep the schools open, Bailey said their futures will likely have to be a yearly discussion.
Division administration also has made efforts to increase collaboration between schools in Stettler to cut costs by co-ordinating things like school schedules and the sharing of human and educational resources. Fear of change has scuttled some of those efforts in the immediate term, but Bailey said discussions will likely continue.
Clearview projects to lose about 70 pupils next school year, putting it below 2,400 students across the vast division. But the province’s enrolment projection formula is not projecting any decline, and because of that calculation the division will not see any mitigation funding to keep its revenues at 2013-14 levels.
Associate superintendent Peter Neale said that fact puts the division out a few hundred thousand dollars.
While the division is cutting costs by eliminating teacher positions at rates similar to recent years, Neale said it also wants to explore if services can be maintained by tapping into unrealized funding sources. This year the division plans to contact parents to see if they could and would self-declare as First Nations, Métis or Inuit (FNMI), a designation that brings in additional funds for school jurisdictions. The division has only 16 FNMI-funded students this year.