Board passes balanced $79.8 million budget for 2015-2016

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The Board of Trustees of Palliser Regional Schools approved a balanced budget of $79.8 million, based on projected enrolments, revenue estimates, and ensuring contractual obligations are met.

“This budget makes the reductions in expenses we delayed a year ago when we passed a deficit budget,” said Palliser Board Chair Colleen Deitz, following the board's meeting Tuesday. “A year ago at this time, our board made the unusual decision to operate at a $1.6 million deficit in hopes our lobbying efforts for transition funding would bear fruit. That wasn’t the case, and now we’re making reductions we hoped we could avoid.”

The board lobbied for transition funding in the wake of a decision by one Calgary school to return to private school status, reducing Palliser enrolment by nearly 700 students in 2014/15.

Staff in Human Resources and Finance Services worked with school leadership to review projected student enrolment and learning needs school by school in determining staffing levels for 2015-2016. As a result, certificated staff will be reduced by about 15 full-time equivalents (FTE). This will be achieved largely through attrition with 11 retirements and 12 resignations this spring. Palliser will have 397 FTE teachers in 2015-2016.

In support staff, about 16,000 hours have been reduced division wide, an eight per cent reduction, and every effort was made to maintain support staff hours so existing staff would retain benefits and pension if they already were eligible.

Other highlights:

  • The budget includes a 2% salary increase on Sept. 1, 2015 for all non-union support staff, in keeping with the increase negotiated in the Alberta Teachers’ Association contract and Palliser’s agreement with Canadian Union of Public Employees. The board remains committed to equitable treatment of employee groups.

  • Palliser’s instructional supplies and material fees (formerly called textbook rental fees) will remain unchanged, set at $59 for each student Grade 7-9 and $69 for each student Grade 10-12. The board continues to waive the fee of $39 for each Grade 1-6 student. While Palliser does not collect the fee from families of elementary students, the division does provide their schools the equivalent amount from operating revenue. There remains a fee waiver process for families based on hardship.

  • The technology fee remains unchanged at $35 per student, grades 1-12.

  • The board has reduced its own governance budget by 1%.

  • Palliser will reduce by one bus route through route consolidation at a school projecting reduced enrolment.

  • Infrastructure work in schools will be reduced in 2015-2016 because Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal funding has been cut in half to $1.1 million.

  • Central Office staffing has been reduced by one FTE.

  • One full-time caretaking position will not be replaced at a school.

  • The budget includes an investment in four school buses to renew the fleet of more than 60, one replacement administrative vehicle and a replacement van for use by Facilities Services staff.

The balanced budget was achieved thanks to the provincial government decision to restore previously announced budget cuts. The original provincial budget announcement included 3.1% in reductions to most grants, other than base instruction. The government also lifted a cap on CEU (credit enrolment units) funding for high school students, the freeze on enrolment growth and restrictions on teacher staffing.  The budget balancing would have required more reductions if the new government had not reversed the planned cuts.  However, grants such as transportation, inclusive education and English as a second language, were not increased and therefore do not keep pace with inflation.

Palliser is projecting enrolment of about 6,800, the same as this year.