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School division facing $2.8 million 2019-20 budget shortfall

Reductions in division office, school budgets and use of reserves planned
This year's budget shortfall just one of two financial corners the school division says it needs needs to turn. File logo

INNISFAIL - Chinook’s Edge School Division has outlined some of its plans to deal with expected budget shortfalls following the release of the 2019 provincial budget.

The Innisfail-headquartered division will need to make a $2.8-million adjustment, says superintendent Kurt Sacher.

The division is facing what Sacher calls two “financial corners” in the coming months. First, the division needs to address a two per cent funding shortfall for the current 2019-20 school year, he said.

The second corner will come in the spring in the wake of the new provincial allocation model and the spring budget announcement for the 2020-21 school year.

“It is our plan to buffer both of these turns using a reasonable blend of reserves, reductions in division office spending, and an adjustment to school allocations,” Sacher said in a release last week.

“We have worked hard to come up with a plan that sets us up for success over time. We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that the impact on our students, our programs and our people is minimized.”

To meet the $2.8-million budget challenge this school year, the division will use reserves and other means.

Specifically, $2.35 million will come from a variety of reserves and revised cost estimates, without affecting jobs, he said.

“Please keep in mind that the continued use of reserves to balance budgets is a pattern that is not sustainable over the long term,” he said. “This is why we need division office and schools to become accustomed to some changes at their level.”

Second, $150,000 or just under a 0.8 per cent reduction of the budget for division office will come from reductions in expenses at the division office level.

“We will not be replacing a division principal from March 1 to August 15, 2020 and we will be reducing third-party non-essential psychological testing,” he said.

Third, $300,000 or just under a 0.4 per cent reduction of the budget for schools will come from reductions to school allocations.

“The expectation here is for $29 per student to be reduced from each school budget,” he said. “For example, a school with 300 students will be expected to find $8,700, out of a $2-million budget, to help us solve our budgetary challenge.

“We believe many of our schools can handle this with their own reserves. We believe the rest of our schools can make some internal adjustments to accommodate this in a way that does not impact our students, their programs, or the staff who look after them.”

The division plans to work closely with individual schools on this transition, he said.

The government has eliminated the grant for basic school fees starting in the 2019-20 school year.

“Out of respect for our families, the board will not be reinstituting basic fees for this school year,” he said. “However, it is very likely that they will reinstate basic fees for the 2020-21 school year as reserves become depleted.”

The division plans to rely on attrition rather than layoffs to make any staffing adjustments that may be necessary, he said.

“We will work very hard to minimize the impact of these reductions on our students and staff,” he said. “If the spring budget comes in better than expected we will share an appropriate amount of those allocations with our schools.

“If it comes in worse than we expect, we will work collaboratively to make sure that our values are still protected as much as possible.”

Trustees, administration and staff are concerned with the impact rising costs may have on students going forward, he said.

“While it is appreciated that the government has sustained the overall provincial funding envelope for education at $8.2 billion, our rising costs still leave us with fewer resources to support students,” he said.

“Our board continues to expect us to allocate fairly, to find appropriate efficiencies, and to operate in an open, transparent environment that puts students first. We have no intention of straying from that commitment as we move forward.”