Wolf Creek Schools budget commits to serving student needs
Trustees with Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) leaned on the goals of maintaining services for students and their achievements during discussions on the 2017-18 budget.
In reaching the overall $88 million proposed balanced budget, trustees had to find more than $637,000 in savings during discussions at the board meeting on April 6 and a special four-hour budget meeting on April 10.
Board chair Lorrie Jess explained some difficult decisions were made, but that the process to reach a consensus was fair.
“The process the board had to follow was good in having to balance a complex budget scenario,” Jess said in a phone interview April 17.
“Through our Thoughtexchange survey, the main themes were class sizes and ensuring the supports are there for students to succeed. I believe, in this budget, we put our students first.”
To do that, trustees actually increased by 0.8 the full-time equivalent (FTE) for classroom teachers division wide to 330.7 in order to maintain the current class sizes for next school year along with spending $349,000 so that all 134 FTE educational assistants (EA) can work seven hours each school day plus attend 10 of the 14 aligned collaboration days with teachers and other staff.
“I can tell you, the EAs are ecstatic about the decision to increase their time,” Jess added.
Trustees also made some slight adjustments to include more FTE time for school administrators, inclusion coaches and school social workers as well as adding a full-time speech language pathologist assistant.
Jayson Lovell, WCPS superintendent, noted that trustees also felt three other recommendations needed to be funded in some way in order for students to continue climbing the ladder of achievement.
“Trustees added a half-time social worker that will exclusively work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FMNI) students at Ponoka Secondary Campus to provide more support on strategies and eliminating barriers for those students to attend and be successful,” he said.
Another enhancement will help students taking math and social studies diploma exams, with trustees keeping the Rock the Diploma exam preparation course for those subjects.
“Trustees want to precisely target those subjects that need the most attention considering recent student outcomes from those exams,” Lovell said.
“However, while the funding won’t cover everything so there will be a small fee, trustees didn’t want to make it cost prohibitive and therefore a barrier for students.”
He added discussions among administration will continue in order to determine what the fee will be.
With the good news in the budget, comes the bad news and most of it came in the form of reductions at the WCPS central office.
“Trustees have heard for a long time that there were too many positions at central office, so many of our budget cuts came at the board and central office levels,” stated Jess.
Overall, nearly $928,000 was slashed and includes the elimination of the division’s learning coaches and the learning supports co-ordinator as well as one position each in business services and a technician in technology services. There were also savings found by way of anticipated lower cost for fuel, utilities and insurance.
Money was also saved by not moving forward with new pre-school classes in Crestomere and Clive, but Lovell added trustees are moving ahead with adding another class to the Bright Futures Play Academy in Blackfalds.
“A phasing out of the learning coaches began this school year and the plan was to finish that in 2017-18,” he said.
“The loss of the technology services position is a result of the comprehensive review that took place while other changes are adjustments to the challenges of having a tight budget while maintaining services.”
Another reality facing WCPS was the recent announcement from the province that some student fees will no longer have to be paid.
However, according to Lovell, the situation regarding just what fees are included in the announcement is still being developed by the province and more details will be available by June.
“Right now, it’s better to have money in the budget to cover those fees, but we are not exactly sure what can and can’t be charged,” he said.
“This though is clearly an opportunity to ensure the fees charged are reasonable, consistent and relate directly to our students.”