Public school board looking at busing change

Red Deer Public Schools will look at changing how it buses elementary and kindergarten school students as part of an effort to reduce its $1.4-million deficit.

Red Deer Public Schools will look at changing how it buses elementary and kindergarten school students as part of an effort to reduce its $1.4-million deficit.

The school board decided Wednesday it would consider all options suggested from senior administration to cut the deficit and bring it into balance over the next three years. One key recommendation was to eliminate the transportation shortfall of $216,000.

Cody McClintock, associate superintendent of business services, suggested double routing of school buses was the way to go. This is where a bus would be used to take students at one school, which would open earlier, and then use the same bus to take students to another school in the same area, but which opens at a later time.

McClintock said the school district could introduce transportation fees for those students who live beyond required school distances. But he frowned on that idea because Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools won’t be adding such fees.

And there’s not much that can be done with transportation expenses themselves, he added.

With double routing, the school district should be able to have more seats available for all kindergarten students.

The school board will make a final decision on double routing on Nov. 28.

Administration will also do a more in-depth report on other deficit-reducing strategies, including a review of existing services. Some speciality high school classes involving a small number of students could be among those under review.

Board chairman Lawrence Lee said that the central administration office is already on a shoe-string budget so further cutting couldn’t happen. He was “lukewarm” on a hiring freeze — another option that will be investigated.

Since the school population is growing, this could allow the district to freeze rather than reduce its workforce for a period of time and use enrolment growth to help generate additional revenue to reduce the deficit.

The school district may also reduce or freeze the per pupil allocation, which is how the province funds. Current deficits are reducing the operating reserves directly controlled by the board, but most school operating reserves have either held steady or increased.

School trustee Bill Stuebing said the board only has access to a limited range of reserves and these are controlled centrally. The bulk are controlled by schools and this is a substantial amount of cash. The school board could direct the schools to do the same thing that the board has been doing for the last three years, which is draw down reserves as part of budgeting, said Stuebing.

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