COLUMN: WCPS Board honouring budget commitments despite funding shortfall

Budget means a significant and severe shortfall in funding for Wolf Creek Public Schools

We knew that the Alberta Government’s budget released in October was going to be a tough one, but the budget means a significant and severe shortfall in funding for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS).

Alberta Education has eliminated three major grants that directly support students and teachers in the classroom, with a replacement grant that is significantly lower. Those grants are: Class Size Funding (reduced class sizes primarily K-3), Classroom Improvement Fund (Educational Assistants and School Social Workers), and School Fee Replacement Grant (reduced school fees for parents). The changes in the Alberta Government’s budget mean a $1,790,598 shortfall for our school division. We understand the desire for fiscal restraint, but this change in funding during the school year is extremely disappointing.

In planning for the 2019-2020 school year, the Board made commitments based on our priorities, and despite this shortfall created by changes to education funding, we felt it necessary to honour those commitments. To that end, the Board will use reserves, essentially WCPS’ savings, to cover the provincial funding shortfall.

Although not easy, this decision ensures no reductions this school year in school budgets and district operational budgets, including front-line support for classrooms and students. The impact of using these reserves is that it delays the replacement of some equipment throughout WCPS and the replacement of some school buses as per our bus replacement schedule. WCPS currently has a replacement cycle for 12 years for buses. We believe it will be feasible to extend that replacement schedule to 14 or 15 years. To that end, there would be no new buses purchased for two years. WCPS’s average bus age for its fleet is low, and we feel that this change does not impact safety.

You may be aware that funding from the provincial government makes up nearly all the revenue a school division receives to operate schools and educate students. Going forward, we know WCPS, like divisions across the province, are facing a new reality that will be difficult to budget for. The Alberta Government has stated they are “freezing” education funding rates for four years. Meanwhile, the provincial funding and assurance framework is under review and will be released for the spring, 2020 budget. That simply means we are not certain what that will translate into in terms of further funding changes for education. It is also uncertain if the “one-time transitional funding” may take any other form next year, but we do know that we no longer have Class Size Funding, School Fee Reduction Funding or Classroom Improvement Funding. Those three grants alone total $4.65 million in funding.

As we also prepare for the 2020-2021 Wolf Creek Public Schools budget and the next school year, senior administration has been directed to undertake a complete review of operations to find further efficiencies. The operational review is ongoing over the next several months in preparation for spring budget planning.

We commit to keeping you informed through this process, and we thank all our staff, students, parents and school communities for their support of Wolf Creek Public Schools.

Pamela Hansen is Board Chair of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS). WCPS Board of Trustees consists of six trustees representing the communities and rural areas of Alix, Bentley, Blackfalds, Bluffton, Clive, Eckville, Lacombe, Ponoka, and Rimbey. Serving approximately 7,300 students, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, WCPS employs approximately 412 teachers and 350 support staff in 30 schools, including five colony schools, throughout the Division.

-Submitted by Wolf Creek Public Schools

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