Rocky View Schools (RVS) said the Alberta government’s 2019 budget will force the division to come up with an additional $10 million to balance its books for the current school year.
RVS board chair Fiona Gilbert said the school division was “disheartened” with the provincial budget, which calls for a reduction in overall program spending of 2.8 per cent – roughly $1.3 billion – over four years.
"We as a board put together a budget in the spring that we felt was very conservative," she said. "We supported the notion of maintaining education funding, as well as funding for per-student growth."
The United Conservative Party (UCP) tabled the $58.7-billion budget Oct. 24, which includes an $8.2-billion funding freeze for education until 2022, but a 2.2 per cent increase in instructional services by 2022-23, to account for enrolment growth.
RVS' enrolment grew by 3.8 per cent this year – 923 students, according to Gilbert.
“What we do see in this budget is that the government is sticking to the commitment of funding enrolment growth, but the way it’s being done is where we are challenged," she said. "They’re re-allocating other grant money from education to cover the costs of enrolment. Really, there’s limited new money coming into the education system."
RVS operates on a $275-million budget, according to Gilbert, with three quarters of that going to salaries and benefits.
"When we did our spring budget, we anticipated a certain amount of dollars…and anticipated an additional $15 million coming from the government," she said. "They’re giving us $5 million of that, because there’s a one-time transition funding that they’re putting into place."
Gilbert and RVS Associate Superintendent of Businesses and Operations Larry Paul said the division will thoroughly review its budget and operations to “find efficiencies not already uncovered.”
“However, given that almost 76 per cent of our $275-million budget is allocated to salaries and benefits, service levels will decrease and class sizes will be impacted,” Paul said. “We ask all members of our learning community for their patience as we begin to work through this difficult process of adjusting our budget two months into the school year.”
Gilbert said options to find efficiencies could include tapping into RVS' reserves or cancelling certain programs. She said the board will present options at RVS' November meeting.
“I want to assure folks, we do have some difficult decisions to make as a board, but we want to let everyone know the board won’t take those lightly," she said. "We’ll do a thorough examination of all the possibilities and make sure student learning is top of mind as we move forward with a readjusted budget for this year.”
The deficit for 2019-20 is expected to be $8.7 billion, largely due to a $1.5-billion window for the government to extricate itself from crude-by-rail contracts signed by the former New Democratic Party government.
Pitt said the government plans to get back to balance by 2022-23.
“We were on track for $90 billion of debt after the last four years of the NDP government,” she said. “Albertans need to know that cost us $5 million a day in debt-servicing costs. Those are fees that are leaving Alberta and not benefiting us in any way, shape or form.”
Pitt added spending reductions in the government’s budget highlight the province’s need to rein in its spending.
“The rate in which spending reductions are happening to get us to a balanced path…in four years is calculated,” she said. “The revenues are under-predicted, as opposed to over-predicted, and they leave room for things to change and go wrong.”
—With files from the St. Albert Gazette