By Rose Sanchez
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Increasing deficits in the area of transportation continue to be a concern for officials with Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) and the board of trustees.
Just how large that deficit is — estimated to be $427,807 in the 2017/18 school year — was discussed at the June 13 regular board meeting when trustees approved the 2017/18 preliminary budget.
Ryan Boser, secretary-treasurer, told the board an estimated decrease in enrollment of 7.5 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) students translates into $71,000 less in the upcoming school year for transportation, but what the division receives from the provincial government for transportation funding along with the other revenues in that area, results in $165,000 less than what is needed to cover the contracts for transporting students for the school year.
“Before we consider any other expenses in transportation we are already in a hole of $165,000,” pointed out Boser.
“Our routes haven’t changed, and over the years we have increased our ride times and yet we have less money to provide that service,” said Chair Stuart Angle.
Boser explained that formulas used to calculate funding have a negative impact for Prairie Rose especially in the area of density. Prairie Rose is off the scale when it comes to density as the maximum percentage on the scale is 3.02 and Prairie Rose’s density is 4.6.
“It’s not proportionate to where we are at,” he said.
He has calculated that Prairie Rose could be missing out on an additional half a million in funding if the calculations were adjusted which would balance the transportation budget.
Angle said the Rural School Boards Caucus is working on a letter to the government about transportation funding and concerns about shortages.
“This government is trying to keep the boat afloat in education during the economic downturn, but I don’t think they really get the difference between rural and urban,” added Angle.
The preliminary budget approved by the board shows total revenues of $51 million ($51,030,171) and expenses of $51.6 million ($51,686,089) for a slightly larger deficit than in the current school year budget of $655,918.
A slight decrease in enrollment is expected and there are no increases in base, class size, instructional, plant, operations and maintenance or transportation grants from the 2016/17 year. The Infrastructure, Maintenance and Renewal (IMR) funding will increase by about 13 per cent or $147, 924.
Prairie Rose will receive an additional $285,000 in funding this year to help cover the costs of instructional school fees that in the past have been charged to parents as well as $141,000 to implement a nutrition program in at least one school. Boser said increases in funding are misleading as a formula change made to small schools by necessity grant will translate into a $145,000 decrease in funding, and an additional $35,000 decrease due to enrollment estimates. Bow Island Elementary School is no longer considered a small school by necessity as the formula dictates that those students could “fit into” Burdett School on paper as the usage of the Burdett building is not at 100 per cent capacity and Bow Island is within the 25 kilometres distance threshold.
“I think the funding formula people should visit the schools to see what capacity really is,” said Angle. “They need to re-interpret small schools by necessity because we need funding for the schools that are there.”
Superintendent Brian Andjelic said some formulas have been changed by the provincial government to help fund new student enrollment and growth.
“That’s generally not happening in the rural areas … It’s (money) going from one pot and going to another pot and in this particular case, it’s not to Prairie Rose’s benefit.”
Some trustees also took issue with the government funding equity of opportunity grants based on a per student formula. With a projected decrease in enrolment, Prairie Rose will receive about $64,000 less in funding in this area.
“The equity of opportunity funding is supposed to allow us to offer opportunities to students,” said Angle. “Those costs remains the same. We lose dollars, but are expected to maintain opportunities for our students.”
The amount of money the division can spend on board governance and system administration from instructional dollars has been reduced by 10 per cent by the Province for the fourth year and the expectation is for this to continue annually.
The Province is taking the 10 per cent from overall instructional funding resulting in a loss of $277,700 from Prairie Rose classrooms.
Boser pointed out the preliminary budget continues a commitment to support professional learning as well as the division’s wildly important goals of literacy and wellness. Officials are appreciative of the additional funding to IMR as well as a formula change to Plant, Operations and Maintenance funding which will resulted in an increase in funding of just over $322,000 for the school division.
The carbon tax will cost the school division about $35,000 in natural gas heating as well as an additional $3,000 in gasoline. There is also an estimated 20 per cent increase to insurance premiums due to flooding and fires in Alberta.
Accumulated operating reserves are set to sit at $3.123 million as of Aug. 31. Following the 2017/18 school year, those reserves are estimated to decrease to about $2.69 million.
Overall despite a deficit budget and the challenges in transportation, Boser said Prairie Rose is in good financial condition with strong reserves.
“I truly believe this budget reflects a huge push forward in supporting all of our strategies in our three-year education plan,” he added. “The good news is we’re still in a strong financial position and we have reserves.”
Boser pointed out transportation funding continues to be a challenge and the situation is not sustainable, as the school division’s reserves continue to be depleted to cover deficit transportation budgets.
He said in future years, if more funding from the government isn’t forthcoming, there could be some tough decisions.