Support staff and management at Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) will receive a two per cent salary increase effective Sept. 1.
The decision was made by the board of trustees during a regular meeting Wednesday, Sept. 2. A recommendation by the salary and wage review committee from earlier in the year on June 23 prompted the motion.
Another recommendation by the committee, which was approved by trustees, is to increase the contribution rate for benefit premiums for support staff and management to 98 per cent, up from 95 per cent. Trustee Bob Huff questioned the raise considering WCPS’s 2015/16 operating budget is set to run at a deficit of $1.1 million.
“We have this six-year plan and we have to go into a deficit position to fund what we’re doing this year,” said Huff.
Money to cover the deficit will come from the $4.7 million in reserves at WCPS.
Huff’s main concern was how to continue to pay for programs when there is no extra funding coming in. Secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson replied that the division will have to prioritize different programs when it comes time to budget deliberations.
“We can only run a deficit budget as long as we have surplus to run it,” offered Henderson.
A bigger concern for Henderson is the $7 billion provincial deficit, which is creating challenges for school boards across the province. Long-term sustainable funding needs may be another reason why school boards are trying to save money.
Henderson added that WCPS had to put down money for projects at the new elementary school and Ponoka Secondary Campus while waiting for funds to be transferred from the province. Until the province transfers that money, the school board must pay up front for those costs.
Trustee Barb Walker suggested there are several ways to save money and added it would be a question of prioritizing during deliberations.
The WCPS budget was approved in June 23 with $89.8 million in revenues and $91 million in expenditures, which created the deficit. Trustees Pam Hansen, Lorrie Jess, Barb Walker and Trudy Bratland were in favour with Huff against.
The board created a budget line of $320,000 to help superintendent Larry Jacobs address staffing issues over the school year.
Hearing from students
Trustees also addressed concerns from Huff regarding how a Student Voice committee should operate.
He suggested there may not be “buy-in” from WCPS on a committee meant to hear from students about their education. “This committee has meaning and has value,” stated Huff.
The committee is a new addition to WCPS trustees’ duties voted on unanimously by them. Hansen suggested the terms of reference for the committee would need to be outlined at the next regular meeting, which would help the board determine how they should function.
“Are we going to do anything with what we hear?” reiterated Huff.
He feels if the board hears but does not act on those voices, then students will become disenfranchised.
Henderson suggested the board can make Student Voice a regular agenda item for each meeting to ensure it is discussed.
Busing challenges at start of year
One of the biggest complaints at the start of the school years is busing students to and from school.
Transportation manager John Blood spoke with trustees about having to balance a $200,000 cut in transportation while managing busing. This year eight routes were dropped.
Henderson said there were two areas of greatest concern where busing was cut: Eckville and Lacombe. “Where John focused those route reductions is where we had minimum ride size,” he added.
In one case a route near Alix was cut as there were 19 registered students for a 54 passenger bus, in some instances there were far less actually on the bus. Blood said they accommodated the students on three other routes.
Trustee Hansen said the perception she heard from parents in the Eckville area was they felt the school board was making it increasingly difficult for students to get to school on the bus, so they stopped using it.
Another challenge for families was increased ride times due to cuts. After spending time on the issue, trustees recommended an additional bus route in Eckville and Lacombe be reinstated with funding to come from reserves.
Ponoka also had two routes cut and prior to the most recent drop in routes, Blood had reduced 10 routes.
Trustees set appointments and officers
During their first regular meeting of the school year, trustees nominated the chairperson, voted on a vice chairperson as well as set roles on different committees.
Chairperson: Trudy Bratland
Vice-chairperson: Lorrie Jess. Her name was picked from a hat after ballots showed a tie 3-3 vote for Jess and Walker.
ATA Negotiating Committee
Chairperson: Barb Walker and Lorrie Jess on the committee
Audit Committee (all trustees)
Chairperson: Barb Walker
Chairperson: Barb Walker and Bratland on the committee
Bratland, Huff and Jess
Public Relations (all trustees)
Chairperson: Pam Hansen
Health and Action
Walker and Donna Peterson
Alberta School Board Association Zone 4 representative
Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta
Hansen with Walker as the alternate
Trustees meetings are set to meet every first and third Thursday of the month.