The financial past is now catching up with Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) and it will soon have an affect on the fiscal future for the division.
At its regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, the board of trustees were presented with the adjusted 2015-16 operating budget for the public school division and, though not surprised to see a deficit, they were shocked by the seemingly large grenade that landed in their laps.
Trustees were informed in a presentation by Roger Hall, WCPS assistant secretary-treasurer, that the division is now facing a $2.26 million deficit for this current budget year. This deficit is up $1.1 million from the board’s budget in the spring – which is adjusted in the fall by provincial mandate – as a result of reduced per-student funding from the province combined with an increase in expenses for teachers and technology.
Hall explained the division’s prediction on how many students would be in class was off slightly – 36 students less than the estimate – along with other changes in funding resulted in about WCPS getting $600,000 less from the government, while a $553,000 jump in contracts – which includes $315,000 in technology upgrades – as well as about $664,000 hike in teacher and other staffing costs all combined to generate the rise in the projected deficit.
All of the trustees expressed concern over the numbers and that such a large deficit will require them to expend a tremendous amount from reserves to cover it.
“We created this situation last June and it has me concerned, but we also need to be able to help our students that need it,” said trustee Bob Huff.
Meanwhile, trustees Lori Jess and Donna Peterson stated they both believe the funding changes are part of the province’s way of forcing school divisions to reduce their reserves – of which WCPS had close to $4.35 million in operational and capital reserve funds at the start of this fiscal year – due in part to the poor optics presented in the media earlier this year.
The report was presented as information to the board and has already been forwarded to the Education ministry as required.
No travel ban here
There will be no blanket ban on school-sponsored international trips by Wolf Creek Public Schools.
Trustees approved a recommendation from Superintendent Larry Jacobs that parents of students that have signed up and paid for these trips be presented with the opportunity to back out if they wish or sign a letter affirming they understand the risks involved and remain willing to have their child go on the trip.
The issue rose to the spotlight last month after the tragic Paris terrorist attacks, which led to several Alberta school boards to cancel all international trips over concerns about safety of the students.
Jacobs explained administration has been carefully looking into the issue through discussions with the trip providers and the two insurance providers, which produced several details that led to his recommendation.
The first issue was the tight deadline and the costs that would be incurred by participants for cancelling – which would be about $500 if done now or as much as $2,000 each if done even a couple weeks later. Another issue was that all the trips could be reorganized or their itineraries changed to avoid potential high-risk areas.
“Joe (Henderson, WCPS secretary-treasurer) and I spent time talking to both providers and the time frames on deciding to cancel these trip that are taking place in the spring are critical, as little as a few days away,” Jacobs told trustees as he explained his reason for bring forth his preferred recommendation.
“If the trips are cancelled as far out as possible, then people can get back as much as they can. However, we were also told they could either provide vouchers or, better yet, revise or modify the agendas for each trip and where they go based on the situation. They both said they have the teams and supports available to shift things to different cities, hotels on the fly.
“As well, they stated the only way a full refund would be provided is if the Canadian government instituted the regions as a no-fly area. So for them, it’s business as usual with just a heightened sense of awareness. Also, some other school boards are reconsidering the bans they already placed on international travel and that’s why I am recommending this option.”
In addition, Jacobs told trustees that all of the principals at the schools involved plus the staff members that are in charge of the trips are all interested in seeing the trips go ahead, along with several parents that he has heard from.
Given that information, all of the trustees agreed it would be best to leave the decision in the hands of those taking part.
“Part of it is the fear, but we need to be realistic and weigh this against the value of these trips,” stated trustee Barb Walker.
Trustee Peterson summed it up saying “We need to let the parents determine if they still want their child to go, not just force a blanket decision on them.”