Aspen View School Division needed $1.5 million from reserves to create a balanced budget for the 2011-2012 school year. With cuts to education across the province, rural Alberta schools are taking a beating.
“We don’t have the money, the revenue, to keep schools of that size with that staffing in place the way that education is funded,” said Brian LeMessurier, superintendent for Aspen View. “Some tough decisions have to be made.”
As an example, LeMessurier said since the school in Smith is so landlocked, with few neighboring communities, the decline in population has been steady for quite a few years.
“If you look at 133 students in 2004, and projected for this year is 70 students,” he said. “That’s almost half the students they had in 2004.”
The decline in school population is not unique to Aspen View, and schools across the province have to cut budgets.
“Some of the budget highlights would be that, thank goodness, due to solid planning on the part of previous boards, we still have reserves that we are able to use,” LeMessurier said. “This will minimize the impact of lower enrollments so we are still able to offer good, solid supportive programs for students.”
The board also created the early retirement incentive program in hopes that they could minimize the amount of cutbacks.
“We want to keep a balance between experienced teachers and new teachers. The early retirement incentive program helped us do that,” he said. “The board took money out of reserves to help to balance both the operations and maintenance and transportation budget.”
Theses are challenging times for transportation, and Aspen View wants the contractors to be able to make a living.
“They’ve taken money out (of reserves) to assist them with covering the high cost of fuel,” he said. “The majority of our students come in by bus. That’s a concern to us, we need our contractors can make a living and stay viable.”
A million dollars was taken from reserves to support 10 teaching positions across the division.
“We took $279,000 out of reserves to cover deficit areas in plant operations and maintenance,” LeMessurier explained. “And $365,000 to cover student transportation. This helps us present a balanced budget.”
What is unique about Aspen View is that even though they needed $1.6 million from reserves to balance this year’s budget, they still have $816,000 in reserves for next year.
“Much of rural Alberta will be in a position where they’ll have no reserves left,” LeMessurier said. “Through very strong planning by our board, some good administrative decisions to support the board, we continue to be one of the strongest financially viable boards in rural Alberta.”