While the provincial government announced a 1.2 per cent decrease in school operating funding for the province’s 28 school divisions this year, the number is higher when looked at on a school year basis says a school division board chair. And for Prairie Valley the impact is $3.1 million.
The provincial 2017-18 budget announced $1.86 billion for school operating funding, the amount down $22 million over last year.
But Janet Kotylak, chair of the Prairie Valley School Division Board of Education, said on a school year basis, school operating funding for divisions in the province is down 2.8 per cent, or $54 million. At the local level, Prairie Valley is dealing with a cut of $3.1 million dollars in their fiscal year.
“And then if you add in inflation, contracts, enrolment increases, we’re likely looking closer to a $5 million reduction,” she said.
Kotylak said the division knew it would be a challenging budget, and with that knowledge, the division has been planning and working to ensure the financial stability of Prairie Valley. She said the division has been working on ensuring financial stability for a number of years, the chair explaining that since the new funding model was introduced in 2009, the division has seen decreases in funding.
“We were prepared and we want it to impact students in a very minimal way,” she said, though recognizing while satisfied with their planning process, a $3.1 million reduction is extremely challenging.
“We’ll work diligently through the numbers over the next little while to hopefully minimize the impacts to students and staff.”
Senior staff are currently working through budget scenarios and implications to create an effective budget. Within the next two months the board will review the scenarios and have staff discussions, refining the budget as they go.
The budget will be submitted to the ministry in June, with ministry approval expected by August 31.
Kotylak recognized it is a very stressful time for many, parents and staff in particular, and the division is planning to communicate as much as they can, as soon as they can, so people can be prepared.
In addition to funding cuts, the provincial government has also asked for a 3.5 per cent reduction in total compensation costs.
However the government did top up this year’s budget for preventative maintenance and renewal (PMR) funding.
The increase adds about $200,000 to the division’s building renewal funding.
“That will certainly be used. Our facilities are aging and we can use every dollar that we’re allocated there,” said Kotylak.
Kotylak added the division is also pleased the ministry has implicated changes to the funding formula model. She said there has been work to change the model for more equitable funding allocation and they are seeing movement.
“We’re comfortable that we’ve impacted some movement as much as we possibly could, and we’re in a better place to say we feel that with the dollars they allocate, every student, no matter where they live or their personal circumstances, will have the best opportunity to get what they need,” she said.
With the budget announcement also came news that divisions are not being amalgamated and school board officials will stay elected.
Kotylak said they are grateful for the public support received for the current structures and she said they feel it speaks to the progress that has been made within the Prairie Valley School Division, people happy with the division and wanting to keep it.
“We’re pleased with the minister’s decision to commit to elected boards of education and largely maintain current boundaries,” she said.
However, while boundary changes are said to be minor, Kotylak said Prairie Valley is one of the division’s being looked at.
The provincial government has also announced governance changes, a new amendment to the Education Act to give the minister additional power and authority to issue directives to the province’s school boards.
“We want to make sure that boards are still able to fulfill their role ensuring local public voice is heard. We want to ensure that running for a place on a board of education remains accessible to all. And that unique circumstances within rural communities are taken into account with these changes,” said Kotylak.
“It’s one thing to remain elected and have boundaries, but we have to be able to fulfil our role of what the people actually asked us to do; it’s to bring their voice to education. So we’re committed to that.”