Those who know me well understand that I’m more of a glass half full than half empty person but, I also tend to shoot from the hip as much as possible. So in giving this update I hope to stay true to both of those qualities.
I’ll begin by recognizing the government for three positives in the education budget. First, I applaud their commitment to funding the negotiated settlement with teaching staff. This contract was fairly negotiated between the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Teachers’ Association and as such, needs to be honoured. The government’s move to ensure that no front line teaching position can be eliminated unless a decrease in enrolment is also a positive step. We all fully understand the importance of having teachers in our classrooms, building strong relationships with students and providing face to face instruction. And finally, the continued commitment to addressing the infrastructure needs in the province is noteworthy. For a division like ours, that is constantly growing and with limited to no space available, our modernization project in Pincher Creek, our new elementary school in Lethbridge and hopefully the release of full funding for our project is Taber is welcomed news. The province is expected to grow by approximately 90,000 people per year and to adequately support that growth, infrastructure needs to continue to be a priority!
And now for those old enough to remember legendary radio personality Paul Harvey, “The rest of the story!” Although I’ve heard that the budget could have been worse or the cuts weren’t as deep as they could have been, quite frankly I’m disappointed by those comments. It sounds to me that children, our future leaders are being considered as second class citizens! Regardless of whether a barrel of oil is selling for $45.00 or $120.00, education must always be a funded as a priority! Interestingly, since beginning in education in 1985, I’ve yet to say, “You know, I think we have enough money in education.” That’s quite a sad statement in itself!
Below I’ve listed some of the major impacts of this budget to our system as well as the implications of funding cuts on the 2015/16 operating budget.
- Holy Spirit is expected to grow by 3.12% or about 150 students next year. The provincial government budget will provide NO funding for enrolment growth! In other words, we will have 150 more students in our system without receiving ANY funding for ANY of them! The decision not to fund student growth will result in a funding shortfall of $1.014 million. The impact is very simple- larger class sizes and less support for students!
- The Board of Trustees have been excellent stewards of finances over the years. They have always been wise at how money is spent to both support today’s students and save a little for a “rainy” day. Good budgeting always suggests that you put away for a rainy day… well it is pouring right now! We have used a limited amount of reserves to balance previous budgets to ensure high quality learning continues in the system. This is a normal procedure for many school divisions across the province and in the past, required no formal approval to use those reserves. This year however, the use of school division reserves requires Ministerial approval, and can only be requested after a balanced budget is submitted. Furthermore, reserves are expected to be approved for only non-operational and one-time only expenditures. In other words, we are anticipating that reserves to support staffing costs WILL NOT BE APPROVED!
- Here are the anticipated decreases in funding for our division:
- Funding for First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students will decrease by 3.1% or $18,000
- English Language Learners (ELL) funding will decrease by 3.1% or $27,000
- Inclusive Education funding will decrease by 1.9% or $137,000
- Outreach programs will be cut by 3.1% or $4000
- The grants for transportation will decrease by 1.4% or $40,000
- Plant Operations and Maintenance funding will decrease by 3.1% or $118,000
- Socio Economic Status funding will decrease by 3.1% or $16,000
- Equity of Opportunity grants will decrease by 3.1% or $19,000
- Early Learning Program Unit Funding will decrease by 3.1% or $54,000
- Further reductions in administration spending of $4000
- Although the base funding rate for teachers will increase by 2%, the rate for non-teaching staff will decrease by 3.1% or $98,000
- The shortfall in funding from the government is expected to be $1,549,000.
- Normal cost escalation like utilities, licensing, and insurance will be approximately an additional $500,000.
Budget 2015 is not a favourable budget for education and without any flexibility permitted, some very tough decisions will need to be made. While I’ve never said we have enough money in education, this year’s budget is the worst I’ve faced during my time in education. It is not good for students and therefore, it is not good for our future as Albertans!