The Pembina Hills school division (PHRD) will run the 2011-2012 school year with a $125,000 deficit after making changes to its operations budget to account for a $1.13 million shortfall in funding from the province.
School board chair Doug Fleming said running the deficit was the only way to eat into the funding shortfall while minimizing the impact the necessary cuts would have on the PHRD’s operations.
“The $125,000 deficit is as close as we could get to zero without severely impacting the core business of education,” he said.
There are two reasons for the funding shortfall, Fleming said — enrolment in the division is continuing to decline at a rate of two per cent, and the government has cut back on several of the grants it awards to schools. In particular, the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement has seen its funding cut in half, he said.
“That certainly has an impact on improving teaching and learning,” he said.
In order to limit the deficit to $125,000, Fleming said there were three areas where efficiencies and cuts were effected.
The first was in the transportation and maintenance departments.
The two were combined, he said, which produced a savings of $125,000. Merging the departments was done so Pembina Hills can keep its buses on the road, and hopefully keep the travel times at current levels.
The second area was reductions at the central office.
The third area was with the teaching staff. In order to keep the deficit under control, Fleming said the division will be eliminating 12.2 full-time equivalent teaching positions, in addition to 15 support staff positions. All three are things he recognizes are not the preferred courses of action.
“That impacts everybody,” he said. “That impacts students, it impacts the school, it impacts the families and it impacts our communities because there’s fewer people working.”
In terms of the reduction in the number of teachers and support staff, Fleming said the number of students in each class will only go up next school year.
“Parents will see that there will be larger class sizes for next year,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”
However, division secretary treasurer Tracy Meunier said the reductions in staffing are spread out over the entire division and not localized.
“That 12.2 full-time equivalent teachers across the division are different numbers in each one of the schools, depending on their enrolments,” she said.
Since these numbers are only forecasts, she said the next step is to take a look at the actual enrolment numbers in the fall. Once that’s done, the schools will adjust their own budgets to account for the actual numbers.
“We always hope that we’re going to be pleasantly surprised in September and have more children than we were projecting, in which case we’ll take a look at adding services for those children,” she said. “If we have less children than we’re projecting, then we need to look deeper.”
As Fleming previously alluded to, the cuts were a necessary evil in order to keep the services the PHRD provides to its students at a high level.
“What we tried to do when we looked at the budget was to maintain the core services and minimize the impact on those core services,” he said.
Moving forward, Fleming said the board are advocating other school boards around Alberta to lobby the government to establish an education funding formula based on three key concepts — adequate funding, predictable funding and sustainable funding.
He added that he believes that if education is a government priority, it should benefit from a funding plan like that of health care, which is privy to its own adequate, predictable and sustainable funding stream.
As it is, he said PHRD is not the only school division in the province facing a budgetary shortfall, and the divisions in places like Edmonton and Calgary are facing even bigger cuts. “As we could see it, it’s the best we could do this year,” he said.