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$1.1 million will pay for new social workers, psychologists

Pembina Hills trustees approve 2022-2023 Co-op Pool Budget during April 27 meeting
New Pembina HIlls Sign
The Co-op Pool is a central pool of funding used to pay for services shared between community schools in the Pembina Hills School Division. The school board passed a motion approving the 2022-2023 Co-op Pool Budget on April 27.

BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK - In an effort to cover some discontinued services previously offered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other agencies, the Pembina Hills School Division will be allocating more money through its Co-op Pool for the hiring of two social workers, one psychologist and one speech language psychologist. 

During their April 27 meeting, Pembina Hills trustees passed a motion approving the 2022-2023 Co-op Pool Budget as presented. 

Secretary-treasurer Heather Nanninga explained the Co-op Pool is a central pool of funding used for additional services that generally affect the entire division, such as Information Technology (IT) supports, Student Services and instructional supports. 

Funding for the Yellowhead Regional Library – a total of $50,000 each year - also comes out of the Co-op Pool. 

In order to cover these expenses, some provincial money goes directly into the Co-op Pool; for instance, the $190,000 grant the division uses to fund the Promoting Activity, Wellness and Success (PAWS) community-based program at Swan Hills School goes into the Co-op Pool. 

Nanninga said they also direct all of the interest Pembina Hills earns from its investments into the Co-op Pool, where it is typically used for IT support. 

The Co-op Pool also has its own reserve where any money that is left in the pool at the end of the year is directed, she said. 

Trustee David Truckey asked if the Co-op Pool is the funding mechanism used by most school divisions for centralized services. 

Nanninga indicated that is likely the case, as funding such services out of individual school budgets would require more accounting. 

“This is the easier method, for sure,” she said. 

For the upcoming school year, the total Co-op Pool budget is $5.695 million, which is $1.115 million higher than the amount of money allocated for the Co-op Pool in 2021-2022. 

This is largely related to the hiring of the new social workers and psychologists mentioned earlier. The reason why Pembina Hills is taking on these additional staff is because a number of programs once funded by AHS and other agencies have stopped, but the need hasn’t gone away. 

"So, we would like to allocate some resources to filling those gaps left by the collapse of those services,” said Nanninga. 

In addition, the division is pulling $500,000 out of Co-op Pool reserves to address learning losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nanninga said they have received some funding to address learning losses from the province, but that money was largely dedicated to helping Grade 1 and 2 students. 

“We have more needs in our division besides Grade 1 and 2,” she said, adding the money will also go towards some targeted strategies to enhance literacy and numeracy. 

Nanninga highlighted some other bookkeeping changes within the Co-op Pool budget, such as the removal of an expense for a School Resource Officer (SRO) as that expense is now being handled by the RCMP detachment. 

The budget is also impacted by some changes in title for some Pembina Hills employees, which in turn will come with a salary boost for those workers.