Millions of dollars more will flow to Central Alberta school boards following the announcement by Premier Rachel Notley on Thursday to restore education funding for the 2015-16 school year.
The previous Progressive Conservative government told school boards in its March budget that boards needed to reduce non-teaching costs. It also said boards couldn’t cut teaching jobs or use reserves, and that there would be no new funding for 12,000 new students expected in the next school year.
Those 12,000 students will now be funded. And the newly-elected NDP government said it will restore funding to non-teaching resources such as transportation grants, teacher aides and inclusive education.
And restrictions on school boards using reserves in the next school year budget have been removed.
The two per cent funding increase to cover salary increases and a one per cent lump sum payment negotiated previously will be maintained, and an additional $103 million for the next school year will be provided by the new government.
Notley made the announcement in Calgary with the Education Minister David Eggen.
For the Red Deer Public School District, this will see the 2014-15 provincial operating funding of $94.7 million go to $98.9 million next school year, or an additional $4.2 million (a 4.5 per cent increase).
The Red Deer Catholic Regional Division will see funding increase by $3 million, from $78.6 million to $81.6 million (up 3.9 per cent).
Chinook’s Edge School Division will receive a 3.1 per cent increase in operating funding, with this year’s funding of $102.4 million increasing to $105.7 million next year.
Wolf Creek School Division will see a 2.9 per cent increase, going from $70.2 million to $72.3 million.
Wild Rose School Division will see a 2.6 per cent increase, from $51.5 million to $52.8 million (2.6 per cent increase).
Clearview School Division will go from $26.9 million to $27.5 million (1.9 per cent).
St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division will see a 4.7 per cent increase, from $31 million to $32.5 million.
Bev Manning, chairperson of the Red Deer Public school board, said they will still need to move forward cautiously.
“It doesn’t mean that all is well with the world but it certainly does mean that we’ve been restored a little bit and we’re feeling a little bit more hopeful about how we’re going to accommodate the growth at least that we’re expecting in the fall.
“And to be able to breathe a little bit. I was feeling pretty stressed there for a little while.”
She was appreciative that the new government has recognized local board autonomy. If they have to draw on reserves, the local board is in the best position to make that decision, she said.
School board budgets were originally to be in to the province by the end of this month. However, that deadline was recently extended to June 30.
Manning said they expect 75 to 100 new students in the fall, although the final number won’t be known until Sept. 15.
She said the district’s budget isn’t finalized, but they don’t expect to go back now and make a lot of changes. They had anticipated that the NDP would come through on their campaign promises.
“We’ll perhaps hold that new money centrally and be able to address hot spots throughout the district as they occur.”
It’s good news from the government but it’s not going to create a lot of money for the district, and they still need to move ahead cautiously because it is a time of financial restraint, and “we understand that,” Manning said.
Guy Pelletier, chairman of Red Deer Catholic schools, said they were feeling positive and very pleased with the funding announcement.
The announcement will make their budget decisions in the next month much easier, he said.
The Catholic board had several budget options in the works, depending on what the new government decided.
Pelletier said they will be looking at putting items back into the budget and if they need to dip into their $10-million reserve, they now can.
The district expects 300 to 400 new students next year. They’ve seen student population grow by four to six per cent each year, he said.
As recently as Tuesday, the Catholic board had a discussion about next school year’s budget and had directed administration to draft a budget based on the expectation that they would be able to use reserves, but not with the idea that the three per cent reduction in non-teaching would be restored.
It does allow the board to go ahead and make their plans for staffing and classrooms sizes in the fall, Pelletier said.