Chinook’s Edge condemns budget cuts

School division is concerned about impacts from recent decrease in government funding.

  • Apr. 27, 2017 2:00 p.m.

School divisions in Central Alberta have expressed strong disappointment with the Ministry of Education’s decision to cut funding to the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) model. RCSD provides funds for Central Alberta schools, and entailed more than $6 million in funding last year, used in various school programs. Chinook’s Edge is a regional partner in the Central Alberta RCSD Region, which includes a number of other school divisions in the area that rely on RCSD funding.

One particular use for RCSD funding that now faces a dubious future is the assortment supports for students with special needs in Chinook’s Edge, contended Superintendent Kurt Sacher.

“A few years ago, they changed to the RCSD model. It supports our most vulnerable students, with a whole range of support, anywhere from mental health supports to nursing supports for teachers dealing with students who have visual, or hearing impairment,” said Sacher, in a call with the Sylvan Lake News. “It provides help for family wellness workers, helping children facing family difficulties.”

According to Sacher, the cut to RCSD funding will eventually translate into a 16 per cent drop in funding for programs within the division. “That’s pretty significant, and it affects several Central Alberta boards,” he noted.

Sacher said that three years ago, the Ministry of Education talked about cutting a little over a million dollars in funding, and Chinook’s Edge was one of many Central Albertan school divisions involved in the RCSD service model, that strongly advocated against such a course of action.

“So three years passed, it came up again in this budget cycle, and we advocated against it again,” said Sacher. “They cut about a million dollars in this year’s budget. We’re expressing our concern, addressing the minister, and CCing the MLAs, the Public School Boards Association and the Alberta School Boards Association.”

Sacher added, “They still have time to change it in time for next year, but for this year, the budgets are already set.”

Chinook’s Edge is one of many divisions that will be speaking out, in the coming weeks, against the government’s decision to cut RCSD funding. Sacher stated that Wetaskiwin Regional Division No. 11 has already expressed its disapproval of cuts.

“At the core of it, we need all the funding we receive through this model. Central Alberta has been hit harder than other regions, because of the formula they used for funding,” Sacher said. “We understand that these are very difficult economic times now, and certain efficiencies need to be made, but we really believe it’s a mistake to cut RCSD funding. It is designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable students.”

Sacher said the entirety of the funding is necessary to support teachers in the division since “they already have pretty difficult job, with increasing complexities they encounter with students.”

He stated that teachers already face considerable challenges meeting the special needs of certain students. He added that teachers have proper recourse to deal with the complexities of helping those students, through RCSD funding. That ability to get that support may, in a lot of cases, be reduced because of this year’s funding cut, Sacher noted.

Sacher stated that when supports for teachers dealing with the most vulnerable students are reduced, it makes it difficult for teachers to deal with the rest of the student body as well. He said that this eventually leads to teachers less efficiently dealing with the needs of all students, adding to the burden and challenges within the student population as a whole.

Sacher said that there is an executive board that works on RCSD within the division that is working to minimize the impact of the cut, but “there’s no way to avoid impacting the most vulnerable students. No matter what they do, it simply means fewer resources. We’re going to have less access to mental health supports, when we were finally getting to the top of the reduced waiting list.”

Examples of areas where the loss will be felt most keenly that Sacher alluded to, included teachers who need assistance from consultants on how to help serve the needs of children with special needs in areas such as speech and language, at critical ages.

“The executive has to figure out how to best distribute money where it is needed,” said Sacher. “We’re going to see close to 50,000 students affected in Central Alberta, and in this particular region, there’ll be 11,000 students affected.”

In an email response from the Government of Alberta to the Sylvan Lake News, Lindsay Harvey, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education wrote that “school authorities were aware that the RCSD funding was ending in 2016/17.”

She added that RCSD funding was set to end in 2016/17. The email also stated that the transition funding was provided to RCSD regions when the new funding model was implemented in the 2015/16 school year.

“Communications to the regions since the transition funding was implemented have been consistent that this component was for three years only,” wrote Harvey. “The 2016/17 school year is the last year of the transition funding.”

Since funding for RCSD is provided regionally, the impact on a particular area is decided by the RCSD partners themselves, Harvey noted.

“By way of comparison 21 per cent of students served by the Central Alberta RCSD region are Chinook’s Edge students. The Central Alberta RCSD region received $1.3 million per year in transition funding for three years, ending in 2016/17,” wrote Harvey. “The Central Alberta RCSD region’s 2017-18 allocation totals $5,379,547, a reduction of $996,233 compared to the previous year.”

Harvey stated that collectively, the jurisdictions who are partners in the Central Alberta RCSD region have accumulated a surplus of $43 million, as of Aug. 13, 2016. She added that Chinook’s Edge has a surplus of $2.979 million, as of Aug. 2016.

The email from the Ministry of Education also disclosed projected operating funding and inclusive education for Chinook’s Edge, for 2017-18 to be $107.903 million and $6.897, respectively.