The superintendant of Chinook’s Edge School Division said restored funding sends a positive message about education being a priority for the new provincial government.
Kurt Sacher said on Monday that the funding — announced by Rachel Notley’s NDP government late last week — is a “good news story.”
“They went further, to stop the bleeding, if you will, in some of the other areas that were cut back. It hasn’t completely resolved all of our problems but it’s definitely a very positive gesture.”
The government restored facilities and maintenance (non-teaching) funding that was going to be cut by the previous Progressive Conservative government. It will also now allow school boards to use reserves.
And the government provide funding for 12,000 new students expected provincewide in the next school year.
The province will be also provide an additional $103 million in education funding, something that was not anticipated by the school district. Chinook’s Edge will now see their overall operating funding go from $102.4 million to $105.7 million next year.
Sacher said Chinook’s Edge school board took a bit of a risk reaching into emergency reserves to move forward with their budget. They anticipated the NDP government would allow them to use reserves. The school district needs to use $700,000 in emergency reserves to replace their depleted fleet of school buses.
The school board was also banking on getting funding for new students. They are anticipating between 125 and 150 more students, which could result in $700,000 to $800,000 in new funding. The district has about 11,000 students now.
The key message is that the board had already stretched the envelope by digging really deeply into reserves and were looking to go further down that road, Sacher said.
Significant cuts over the past three or four years to grants for facilities and maintenance grants would have seen the district go into a $150,000 to $200,000 deficit next year. But the new money will restore this, he said. The district has already made $600,000 in reductions to this part of the budget.
Where schools used to have a full-time custodian, they are no longer able to do that, and where they had three or four plumbers, they now have two, in the large rural district, Sacher said.
“We believe we’re right on the line of whether we can make ends meet with that low of a staff level on the maintenance side.”
As far as reserves go, there are emergent things that happen so the district needs to have reserves. “It might only happen once in 10 years but you need to be ready for it.”
Chinook’s Edge accumulated operating surplus at the end of last August was only half of the provincial average, and headed lower, Sacher said.
“If government doesn’t step up like they have now, we could actually run into cash flow issues where you have to borrow money to pay the bills as you wait for funding to come in, and there’s additional interest costs for a school division that gets too low on reserves.
“You do want to have some level of reserve in your budget and for this board … three to five per cent has always been their goal.”