By Peggy Revell
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Declining enrolment continues to hit Prairie Rose School Division as preliminary budgeting for the 2016-17 school year forecasts a deficit just short of $800,000.
“We are expecting enrolment declining in 2016-17 by 57.5 (full-time students), or 1.8 per cent,” secretary treasurer Ryan Boser told PRSD trustees at Tuesday’s board meeting, presenting a preliminary budget with a deficit of $799,763 that will be balanced through using reserve funds.
With 3,127.5 students expected to enrol in the upcoming year, the decline in numbers hits the budget twofold: Reducing per-student funding received from the province, and decreasing amounts given through other grants.
For instructional grants, this means a decrease of $688,793. Predicted staffing decreases include a reduction of one full-time teacher, and 25 education assistant hours per week. As well, there is the elimination of one central office instruction program, as it winds down.
For the division’s plant operations and maintenance budget, a deficit of $550,302 is expected— or $264,866 when unfunded amortization is taken into account, and what the impact on reserves will be.
The new carbon tax is expected to increase the cost of heating through natural gas by 25 per cent, and fuel costs by five per cent, Boser also noted.
Transportation remains a problem area for the rural division — with a predicted deficit of $348,356 within this section of its budget.
For the 2016-17, Boser said PRSD busing contract costs of $5.355 million will be $20,537 larger than what provincial funding provides, and that’s only the contracts.
After the upcoming year, 70 of 96 bus routes will be coming up for tender, and between rising costs and the impact of carbon tax being passed along they expect busing costs to continue to rise, he said.
“We know this isn’t sustainable,” said Boser, adding that the deficit shows the board’s commitment to ensuring shorter travel times for students in the rural areas— and they hope there will be a rural transportation cost review by the province before these contracts come up to address funding. Between a deficit expected this year and next, the board’s reserve funds are expected to be reduced to $2,323,814 by Aug. 31, 2017.
“It’s not like we’re increasing services … We’ve got expenses that are not part of our control that continue to climb,” said superintendent Brian Andjelic. “It’s not like we’re running a cadillac service.”
Trustee Arnold Frank noted the province had in past years told school divisions their reserves were “too big” and were told to draw on them.
“What is the plan to stop using the reserves?” he asked.
“Obviously it fits nicely in our budget, but it’s not far away,” he said, about when reserve funds will start running dry and cuts may have to be made.
“This is not stable,” echoed Andjelic. “This is why you’re at the table: To help form what this looks like and there will be some tough decisions.”
Some funding has been recouped in various areas. For example, low administrative costs mean $130,000 is redirected back into classrooms. A new Hutterite colony school in Murray Lake will also bring in more funding, while the board is also selling off teacherages. The province also boosted infrastructure, maintenance and renewal funding by $412,368.