Impact of the provincial budget announcement

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Corporate News

Last week’s budget announcement did not deliver the worst-case scenario Palliser Regional Schools had been bracing for, but it still marked a significant reduction to operating dollars for next year.

The budget, announced Thursday afternoon, includes an increase in funding in order to cover Palliser’s contractual obligations to teachers (a two-per-cent increase in September 2015 and a one-time one-per-cent lump sum due this fall). However, the budget announcement also reduced almost all other grants by 3.1 per cent. 

Program unit funding for early learners with identified needs, English as a Second Language, First Nations funding, plant operations and maintenance (to pay light and water bills and keep schools clean), small schools by necessity funding were all reduced by 3.1 per cent. Funding for Regional Collaborative Service Delivery which co-ordinates and provides services to children with identified and complex needs was also cut 3.1%.  Inclusive education and Transportation grants were “cushioned,” and funding there will be reduced by 1.9 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

The budget announcement stipulates there is no funding for enrolment growth next year, and CEU (high school credit) funding has been capped at the funding levels from 2014-2015.

With some grants increased and others decreased, generally school boards are facing a 2.7-per-cent budget cut overall. Coupled with Palliser’s structural deficit in this current year, the division is now facing a shortfall of about $3.55 million.

The province has said the 2.7 per cent reduction must come in non-teaching costs.

The new budget reinforces the need for Palliser to pursue other revenue in order to sustain levels of service and programs to students, said Board Chair Colleen Deitz. In particular, Palliser Beyond Borders, a school offering online programs, and the division’s international student program present revenue opportunities.

Deitz, who recently returned from China where Palliser is investigating a partnership program for international students, said the visit opened her eyes to the potential there. There was high interest in Alberta’s education system which is well regarded internationally, and much interest in Palliser due to the division’s standing within the province as a high-achieving school system.

“I can see there are opportunities internationally not only for Palliser, but for the province as a whole,” she said.

Palliser administration continue to analyze the specific budget implications based on projected enrolment numbers for next year. School administrators had earlier been consulted about their projected student numbers and staffing needs, as well as school budget projections. Principals and vice-principals were provided Palliser’s worst-case scenario in late February and participated in round table discussions about how the division might deal with the loss of funding moving forward.

A second meeting to discuss budget was held Friday with Palliser principals.

In his weekly memo to Palliser staff, Superintendent Kevin Gietz welcomed staff to share their ideas for dealing with this budget challenge.