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Pembina Hills increases funding for school councils to attend ASCA conference

Board doubles allowance from $2,000 to $5,000
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WESTLOCK — Recognizing that it wasn’t financially viable for local school councils to attend the Alberta School Councils Association’s (ASCA) annual conference, the Pembina Hills board has more than doubled the amount of funding available to councils to cover registration fees and hotel expenses. 

At their Feb. 21 meeting, trustees passed a motion encouraging local school council members to attend the ASCA annual conference in Edmonton at the end of April, and to increase the amount of available funding for council members from $2,000 to $5,000. 

Secretary-treasurer Heather Nanninga first brought up the issue of the ASCA conference, which takes place on April 26-27 and is followed by the association’s annual general meeting on April 28. 

Nanninga noted the conference promotes effective school council practices and parent engagement and provides an excellent professional development opportunity for attendees. 

“It’s a very effective conference for school council attendees to go to,” she said. 

She noted that back in 2012, the Pembina Hills board passed a motion approving an annual allotment of $2,000 to cover the expenses of any school council member wishing to attend the conference. 

That $2,000 is a pool shared amongst all school councils within Pembina Hills. Unfortunately, between registration fees and hotel expenses, it costs about $1,000 for a single school council member to attend the ASCA conference, excluding attendance at any pre-conference sessions.  

Nanninga recommended that school councils also utilize the Alberta School Councils Engagement grant, which amounts to about $500 per school council and is meant to be used to improve engagement. 

“Within Pembina Hills, this grant is very under-utilized,” she said. “Most councils just haven’t really done a lot with it.” 

She noted that Alberta Education has already approved school councils utilizing this $500 grant to attend the conference. 

Board chair Judy Lefebvre noted that Barrhead Elementary’s school council had already utilized its grant. 

Trustee David Truckey added that many school councils struggle to find a use for the grant, mostly because of restrictions on how it can be used. 

He then suggested perhaps increasing the money set aside 12 years ago for attending the conference. 

“Everything’s gone up in 12 years. So if we’re trying to get people to go to this conference from school councils, we need to appropriately fund it,” he said. 

Trustee Maureen Schnirer said the ASCA conference is very important for school council members to attend, pointing out that this is their opportunity to build position statements on issues where they want to see change. 

However, most parents simply don’t have $1,000 to spend on attending a conference, and the amount available through Pembina Hills simply isn’t enough. 

“We need to update this; we need to increase the money, and we need to support those parents so they can initiate positive change in the division and in the province,” she said. 

Truckey said he agreed, noting that even if the budget is increased, it doesn’t mean the whole amount will be spent. 

Schnirer then suggested increasing the amount from $2,000 to $5,000. “Let’s give them some more resources,” she added. 

Superintendent Michael Borgfjord (who is being replaced by Brett Cooper as of March 1) said the board could temporarily raise the funding to $5,000, and then discuss whether or not that was effective at a future Council of School Councils meeting. 

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