School divisions lose three grants

Masha Scheele

The provincial education budget remains stable at $8.2 billion, but according to both school divisions in Hinton, the reallocation of grants to address the previous year’s shortfall, as well as increased enrollment across the province this year, has resulted in a negative financial impact.

The 2019 Alberta budget shows a number of grants pulled and reallocated back to school boards including the class size funding of $1.8 million, classroom improvement grant of $550,000, and school fees reduction grant of $375,000.

Both of Hinton’s school divisions, Evergreen Catholic Separate Regional School Divison (ECSRD) and the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) are affected by a hiring freeze due to cuts and the 274 per cent increase to property insurance.

Calculations by the (ECSRD) following the provincial budget announcement indicate they are now faced with a reduction of approximately $2.7 million. 

It is a shortfall that comes directly from funding intended for classrooms. 

The province allocated a one-time transition grant of $837,000 to offset the shortfall, but this doesn’t compensate for the full impact of the loss of three major grants.

On top of this, the removal of the insurance cap will raise property insurance from $200,000 to $550,000, said Tim Fafard, principal of St. Gregory Catholic School.

The province stated that the changes to the current funding model are in response to Alberta’s K-12 population continuous growth, complex needs and growing costs. 

École Mountain View School has had to release a recently hired educational assistant and canceled another educational assistant posting, according to an email issued by principal Kurt Scobie on Nov. 13.

“As a school, we will be adjusting our services to the best of our abilities within this new financial reality,” stated the email.

Fafard added that the ECSRD has been able to pool all surpluses from the district and school levels to offset the decrease in funding provided by the provincial government.

Staff and students within that division won’t see a reduction in service levels for the remainder of this current school year, stated a release by the ECSRD.

“As we have been able to off-set the cutbacks for this year, no immediate staff reductions will take place. As the provincial budget has been set to reflect no increases for the next three years, we know that it could potentially mean more than a 10 per cent cutback to our school budget. This would equate to fewer teachers and educational assistants being able to provide the necessary supports that our students require,” said Fafard, adding that St. Gregory won’t be able to accurately assess the effects of cutbacks until the new funding formula is released in the spring.

Daniel Burkinshaw, principal of Father Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School, said that his school will be affected similar to those in the GYPSD.

“We are waiting for the government to release their new funding formula in February/March before making any decisions regarding staffing and/or changes to programming,” said Burkinshaw.

Glen Allen, principal of Harry Collinge High School (HCHS) stated that he couldn’t comment on the implications of the provincial budget on the schools’ operations, but expects the division to release additional information as they learn more about the budget.

“Based on what the government has announced publicly, the funding for education will not increase over the next four years. I have projected enrollment increases for HCHS over that time,” he said.

He added that HCHS and the school division have worked very hard to prepare a balanced budget for the current school year. 

A sentiment echoed by both school divisions is that future budgets will be impacted without any educational funding increases in the next four years, but what that will exactly look like is still uncertain.

The province stated in the budget document, “Budget 2019 will use the 2019-20 school year as a transition year for the current funding model.”

It also reads that in consultation with the minister, school authorities can spend their own-source revenue and reserves generated from surpluses of prior years. 

Inquiries made to Crescent Valley School about how operations may be affected were not answered by The Voice press deadline.