Thursday, 29 November 2012 08:00

PRSD expecting big budgeting challenges in 2013-14 school year

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There were no major revisions done to the 2012-13 budget at a special meeting of the Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) Nov. 27, but concern again was raised about how officials will balance the books in 2013-14.

“We haven’t received any additional funds in October like we did last year,” said Patricia Cocks, secretary-treasurer, about the revised budget approved at the meeting. “The primary difference is fewer full-time equivalent students were recorded than we had anticipated.”
There are 61 fewer FTE students than was projected  — a decrease of 88 from the previous year. This effects the total revenues for the division.
“A declining enrollment results in declining revenues and changes in our allocated resources,” added Cocks.
The revised budget shows revenues of $50.5 million, an increase of 0.73 per cent over last year. The division will spend almost $51 million leaving a deficit of $445,249.
Other highlights include a new inclusive education grant of $1.06 million to replace the former Severe Disabilities and ECS Mild and Moderate grants; an overall increase in instructional grant funding of 0.17 per cent; and an increase of three per cent to the rural density grid rates in the transportation grant formula.
Allocations to schools for “non-staffing” resources will be $295 per student — $15 lower than the previous year. That $15 per student was to be used to help offset the cost of a new five-year Smartboard evergreening plan which was to have been allocated $185,000 for 2012-13. Instead, due to the revisions and fewer dollars, that plan will receive only $95,000 so the allocations to schools could remain at $295 per student.
Schools are choosing to fund staffing resources from their reserves, resulting in the loss of only one full-time equivalent teaching position in the division this year.
The bigger concern for Prairie Rose administration and board trustees is how they will fund the $1.4 million shortfall they will see next year, with the elimination of one-time funding from the Province to assist with the loss of the Stabilization grant. In 2010-11, that stabilization grant provided $4.26 million — 13 per cent of the division’s overall instructional funding. One-time grant funding of $1.4 million was received for last year and this year, but then ends.
The Equity of Opportunity replaces about half of the lost $4.26 million.
It combines three areas — a per student grant; a distance grant for students attending a school located more than 40 kilometres from one of the major cities and a low student density grant for students attending schools in areas with fewer than 5,000 people. For Prairie Rose it will work out to about $2.08 million.
Trustee Stuart Angle expressed concern about the division receiving fewer dollars, the declining enrollment and government cuts and what that means for education moving forward.
“Seems to me we could slip off our fiscal cliff pretty easily,” he added.
“When you look at the forecast for 2013-14, it has reasons for your concerns to be real,” said Cocks. “$1.4 million allows us to operate this year. Next year, without that $1.4 million, we don’t know where those cuts can be made.”
She added, it costs a lot of money to operate a division that is as spread out as Prairie Rose and the economies of scale aren’t the same as other similar jurisdictions.
Superintendent Doug Nicholls said the next several months will be critical for Prairie Rose as officials lobby the government to see how important funding is for rural education. Work was done last year through a Budget Taskforce to try to find as many cost savings in the budget as possible.
“Prairie Rose has implemented a number of strategies to get the budget where it is today,” said Brian Andjelic, deputy superintendent.
“I think it’s getting increasingly difficult to come up with creative ways to save or find money.”
“It’s so frustrating sitting in these chairs,” said Trustee Georgine Westgard, adding some wonderful ideas are being implemented in the division and students are responding positively, but they may be in jeopardy. “We go to government and they say it’s a formula, but formulas don’t always work for everybody and they certainly don’t work for Prairie Rose.”
Nicholls said it’s imperative that Alberta Education officials review and adjust rural education funding.
The board has several recommendations for government including returning the stabilization grant or some other form of funding; providing financial support to schools who have to turn to multi-grade classes to save money; develop a model that funds rural divisions who find innovative ways to collaborate and share practises for small schools; provincially support increased programming options for students; re-establish full funding for the AISI program and support initiatives from rural divisions that support the direction of student learning occurring “anywhere, anytime, any pace.”

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Rose Sanchez

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