Cuts to education is never good news for a school board and the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division No. 4 is no exception. With the recent Alberta government budget, education wasn't spared the chopping block.
In 1994, the Holy Spirit division was created, as a result of the voluntary regionalization of five Catholic school boards in the communities of Coaldale, Lethbridge, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek and Taber. In 2014, the Bow Island Catholic School District also joined the division.
There are 15 schools and two outreach centres in the division that serve a total of 5,079 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, as of 2018. Early learning programming is also offered in 11 of the 12 elementary schools to 396 children. Currently, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools employs 315 teachers and 311 support staff. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only three provinces remaining in Canada that still offer publicly-funded Catholic education.
“We're looking at a shortfall in funding of around $1.6 million. That's significant,” noted Superintendent Chris Smeaton. “We're a board that doesn't carry an awful lot of surplus dollars.”
Smeaton said the board is a big believer in spending today's money on today's students. “But they were also pretty firm in their stance that to make any mid-year cuts would not be good for kids.”
What the board will be deciding to do is to not make any cuts, use reserve funds to cover that shortfall funding for this year and then base everything on what that may look like next year, Smeaton explained. “When that funding framework comes out and see if there's going to be reductions required at that point in time.”
Being left with approximately only one per cent of reserves is not a strong fiscal position to be in, he said. “They are concerned about that. But they also recognize making any cuts mid-year is really detrimental to a student's education, so they've just made that commitment. They will look and see what the new funding framework looks like.”
According to Smeaton, the school board has a number of future retirements to consider with any discussion of possible cuts to staff. “If we're looking at reductions in staff, we're hoping the majority of that reduction is done through attrition and not through terminations of young staff.”
Smeaton believes the board was very wise to make sure there were no cuts this year. “The farthest away from the classroom you can cut – the better. But you also have to understand just about 80 per cent of your school board funding is spent on instruction in school.”
It's a very tough place the board is going to be in, he added. “They'll look for as many things away from the classroom as they can.”
Smeaton also added he will be retiring Jan. 3, 2020. Ken Sampson has been named the new superintendent. The two scholars have been working together since Aug. 1 to make sure a transition plan will be in place.