As the summer rolls in, Chinook’s Edge School Division has announced it has achieved a balanced budget. The Board of Education approved the 2017/18 school year budget at its regular meeting on June 21.
The board approved an $129 million balanced budget, with what was described as last year’s “uncomfortably low operating reserves” expected to increase by $115,000. Capital reserves are expected to increase by $660,000 this year, as well.
“It’s a hold the line kind of budget,” said Superintendent Kurt Sacher in a call with the Sylvan Lake News. “It’s good we’re not seeing continued cuts – yet, it’s still challenging because there’s been an erosion of funding for the past five years. This is the best we can do with limited resources.”
Sacher said the board is appreciative of the budget this year, “given the current fiscal climate in Alberta.”
A media release from Chinook’s Edge states the budget is based on predictions of student enrolment growth this coming season, by about 0.6 per cent. In the coming year, the division is tasked with subsidizing the transportation budget by $800,000 – it will be using a combination of instructional revenue and capital reserves to do that.”
Sacher said Chinook’s Edge is one of over 20 school divisions that has met directly with the Ministry of Education, to discuss their transportation needs, expressing concern over a lack of financial support that is a challenge for many rural divisions.
“For many years, they had to utilize instructional dollars to support transportation – that is unacceptable. We voiced our concerns at that with the minister, and we’re hoping to see acknowledgement that rural divisions need more support,” said Sacher. “This is an issue that the board will advocate for, at every opportunity. This affects our kids, teachers and schools – we look forward to a response from the government.”
Letter to the Minister
The board passed a motion to approve revision of the School Fees Administrative Procedure 3-17, and accepted documentation involving school fee schedules from every school in the division.
A media release from Chinook’s Edge stated that the board acknowledged the enormous amount of effort on the part of the division’s finance department, school and office staff in completing “unexpected and extensive documentation on extremely tight deadlines,” relating to school fee administration.
According to the board there is frustration being felt in the division at the reporting requirements of unprecedented depth and frequency. The board also voiced concern about the stress such requirements create for personnel in Chinook’s Edge, and across the province.
“There’s a clear lack of understanding for the reality in school divisions, and school offices relative to the increased levels of reporting. They’ve asked for incredible detail … in their monthly reporting,” said Sacher. “School divisions are at a point where they are adding staff at central office with the specific job of satisfying increasing government paperwork requirements.”
“At a time of diminishing resources, the increased reporting obligation has resulted in approximately two full weeks of staff time in the finance department to meet the new monthly reporting expectations, as well as the additional extra reporting on such items as the school fee schedules,” the release stated.
With the increase in time and detail level required for the reportage, the board has become increasingly concerned that the reporting will begin to draw too many resources out of the classroom in an effort to comply with reporting requirements.
“When you look at the fee schedule, and the incredible detail expected to be done in June, we had to pass work onto schools. That is direspectful of administrative staff and support staff in schools, because they have a whole bunch of other things they need to complete,” said Sacher.
The board is asking for more consultation with schools and divisions, so that a more reasonable outcome expectation can be achieved, said Sacher, adding that the board “is advocating on behalf of people who work so hard – in June, in particular.”
The board also approved the purchase of seven new school buses at its June 21 meeting. The buses will cost approximately $103,000 each. The purchase of the new buses is part of the division’s obligation toward fleet renewal.