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Pembina Hills School Division's fiscal woes improve slightly

Division now expecting operating deficit of $2.205 million
Pembina Hills

BARRHEAD - A series of cuts approved by Pembina Hills School Division trustees in November has lessened the school division’s financial woes, but only slightly.

During their Jan. 15 meeting in Barrhead, trustees passed a motion approving a “fall budget update” for the division, which is expecting to incur a $2.205 million deficit in the current school year.

Tracy Meunier, who has stepped back into the role of secretary-treasurer, said the division is normally required to submit a budget update each fall following the release of the provincial budget in the spring.

This year, however, the provincial budget did not come out until Oct. 24. Thus, the deadline for providing the budget update was extended.
Meunier noted the impact of the provincial budget was previously covered at the Nov. 27 meeting. While there was no change to the per-student grant, a declining Kindergarten enrolment of 2.02 per cent and a decrease in Grade 1-12 enrolment of 1.55 per cent reduced the division’s funding.

The province also eliminated three other significant grants: the Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF) Grant, the School Fee Reduction grant and the Class Size Initiative Grant.

Although the province provided one-time transition funding of $2.087 million, the division was still out an estimated $832,899 in provincial funding.
On top of that, Pembina Hills was also hit by an “unprecedented increase in insurance premiums,” said Meunier. The combined increase in vehicle, property and other insurance premiums equalled $621,183.

All combined, Pembina Hills was negatively impacted to the tune of $1,454,082.

As noted, the board made a motion on Nov. 27 to make a number of cuts to reduce expenses.

These included eliminating out-of-district professional development, which saved $50,000; only conducting the annual Satisfaction Survey online, which saved $6,000; eliminating three teacher-co-ordination positions, which saved $155,000; cutting all division-funded meals at board meetings and events, which saved $20,000; eliminating the relocation incentive, which would save $15,000; and no longer publishing the Board News in local newspapers, which would save $4,000.

They also opted to sell a rental property in Swan Hills that was owned by the division. Meunier noted the property has been vacant for over a year, and they have gotten permission to apply for Ministerial Approval to put any proceeds from the sale towards their plant operations and maintenance budget.
These savings all add up to roughly $300,000. As such, the anticipated deficit has been adjusted from $2.272 million down to $2.205 million.

It is now projected there will be $1,837,994 left in operating reserves as of Aug. 31, 2020. That is only equal to three per cent of Pembina Hills’ operating reserves, Meunier noted.

“I’ll point out that these are budgeted numbers. They are not actual,” Meunier said, noting those numbers will emerge as the year goes on.
Meunier also showed trustees the form that needs to be sent into the province as part of the update.

ADLC update

Trustees also approved the fall budget update for the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC).

Meunier noted that as part of their service agreement with the Alberta government, Pembina Hills’ funding from the province has been reduced from $17.015 million to $15.849 million, as a result of the ADLC incurring a $2.581 million surplus in 2018-2019. The surplus was due to the ADLC not having staff in place for the entire year, as operations were being shifted to the Barrhead campus.

As per the service agreement, ADLC was able to keep the surplus and have its provincial funding in the following year reduced by that much.
In the end, the fall budget update states that ADLC will incur a deficit of $165,000 this year.

About the Author: Kevin Berger

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