It is back to balance for the Red Deer Public School District budget.
The division’s board passed its $112.4 million budget Wednesday night, with over $2.5 million of additional revenues to be spend in 2014-15 than the board had for the current fiscal year. To get expenses back in line with revenues, though, the jurisdiction projects to employ 12.1 fewer teachers next school year.
The majority of the position cuts are at Lindsay Thurber High School, where 173 fewer students are expected next year. In addition to the reduction of a dozen educators, six classroom teachers are to be reassigned as Instructional Design Teachers. It will be their job to work across all division schools, helping to guide teachers and students through curriculum changes.
Red Deer Public had been drawing down its reserves for a handful of years, running deficit budgets in excess of $1 million for the last two. The division has just under $5 million remaining in its operating reserves, a number the board wants to maintain.
After the division added the equivalent of 17 teachers two years ago — along with 34 instructional support positions over the last two years — superintendent Piet Langstraat called the planned cuts something of a “correction.” All of the teacher cuts are from attrition or retirements.
“I’m very confident that going forward we’ll be seeing much more positive budgets in the years to come,” said Langstraat.
While effectively the redeployment of six teachers to the curriculum redesign cause means there will be 18 fewer classroom teachers in front of students come September, Langstraat said those in the new positions will be working “shoulder to shoulder” with the division’s 550-plus educators on new content delivery and learner expectations. The province plans to roll out new curricula for all subjects in 2016.
“There’s a lot of work to do. You can’t just turn a system around in one year. This is building up to that, I would say, over the next couple of years,” said Langstraat.
Enrolment is projected to be up by 175 students across the division, but among the high school age group numbers will be down. The foreseen decline at Lindsay Thurber, plus the school’s $1 million in accumulated debt are the reason that school will be down approximately nine teachers in 2014/15.
Provincial funding changes and internal deficits from things like the school’s cafeteria have built up the Thurber debt, which the division expects to be recovered over a number of years. Langstraat said the school’s programs remain healthy.
School board chair Bev Manning said the board balanced its budgets with reserve dollars in years past because the province had requested that surplus accounts be in the three to four per cent range.
“They were looking across the province and saying ‘You know what, you guys are requesting more funding all the time, but yet we look throughout the province and there are huge surpluses.’ … So we looked at that a few years ago and said systematically we will draw down those reserves. And so we’ve done that, and we can’t do that any longer,” said Manning.
To address the division’s deficit within its transportation division, associate superintendent Cody McClintock said the division will continue its double routing of buses and look to expand such routes. The amount certain bus riders have to pay to ride will also be examined to ensure cost recovery.