Board approves 2017-18 budget

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Deficit of $715,000 will come from accumulated operating surplus

Palliser Regional Schools will dip into its accumulated operating surplus to make up about a $715,000 deficit in its 2017-2018 budget.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Board of Trustees passed a budget that projects revenue of nearly $94.6 million and spending of $95.3 million. Both numbers may change once all school fee information is collected. The provincial deadline for fee information is Sept. 15, 2017, but Palliser is working toward finalizing the fee information by June 30.

The budget is based on enrolment projections of 7,519 students in Grades 1-12 and early childhood services enrolment of 700. While the ECS projection is down by about three per cent, Grade 1-9 enrolment is expected to grow by three per cent. Enrolment is forecast to remain static in Palliser’s high schools which are moving to the High School Redesign funding model. Enrolment to Palliser Beyond Borders online and outreach is generally unpredictable until the fall.

Teacher and support staff will increase

Staffing levels will rise division-wide with 487.9 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions and 451 FTE non-certificated staff, both an increase compared to this year.

Some of that growth is related to the addition of Horizon Elementary School, a new faith-based alternative program set to open in southwest Calgary this fall. Increases in support staff include about $280,000 toward educational assistants to support student needs.

In addition to staffing increases related to enrolment increases at various schools, the board voted to increase the budget by $215,000 toward two FTE teachers, with those teaching hours to be distributed among schools with declining enrolment. The board called this “bridge funding” for one year, giving the schools an opportunity to continue to offer programming and seek innovative ways to increase student enrolment.

Trustees had offered similar budget support during the 2003 BSE crisis, which devastated southern Alberta’s beef industry and led to a dramatic decrease in enrolment in several rural schools.

To offset some of the projected deficit, the budget reduces Palliser’s professional development. While teacher and site-based PD allocations are unchanged, the reduction will affect programs such as induction and mentorship and lead teacher cohort, and associated substitute teacher costs.

Average Palliser teacher compensation, which includes salary and benefits in 2017-2018, is forecast to be $107,500.

Budget document includes new school fee reporting

The budget document includes several new categories to outline school fee categories. In keeping with new provincial legislation, Palliser’s instructional supplies and materials fees have been eliminated. Fees charged for hot lunch, special events, student travel and other activities are outlined in the budget document.

While there are no salary increases in the new teacher agreement, Palliser was projecting “grid creep” of about $700,000. Those are increases due to teachers and support staff as they increase in years of experience. Funding from the provincial budget does not cover grid creep.

The budget includes board-funded capital spending of $910,000 for four new school buses, four replacement vehicles for the Palliser fleet and $75,000 for classroom furniture and $30,000 for technology upgrades and replacement.

The replacement of air exchange roof-top units and associated upgrades at Central Office, deferred from this year’s budget, is included at a cost of $250,000.

Board concerned about sustainability of funding

The board will submit a letter to Alberta Education seeking ministerial approval for the deficit budget and urging the department to rethink how education is funded. While the provincial budget included funding for enrolment growth, it did not include any increases for inflation, such as the grid creep. Trustees discussed how the use of surplus funds is not sustainable over the long term.

The budget document reflects a projected operating deficit for 2016-2017 of $600,000, which will also be covered out of accumulated operating surplus.

At Aug. 31, 2017, Palliser expects to have an accumulated operating surplus of $3.82 million, down from $4.53 million a year earlier.

With the planned deficit in 2017-2018, the accumulated operating surplus will decline to $3.12 million. That equates to the cost of operating Palliser for about eight days.

Palliser had capital reserves of $408,000 at Aug. 31, 2016. With planned capital purchases, such as buses, technology and school furniture, the capital reserve is expected to be about $64,000 by Aug. 31, 2018.

The trustees also expressed concern with how onerous the province’s new fee reporting requirements are on staff, with schools being expected to predict and estimate costs associated with every field or sports trip or other activity in advance. For example, if a school fails to budget for a trip to a provincial championship tournament in advance, the team won’t be able to collect fees at that time for students to attend.

The budget document will be posted on Palliser’s website once the school fee information is finalized.

More highlights from the June 20th board meeting are available in PDF format.