Ponoka’s public school division set to deal with massive deficit

Wolf Creek Public Schools loses more than 200 students, means shortfall of $1.9 million

An unanticipated loss of students last September has caused quite the financial conundrum for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS).

Trustees of WCPS were dished the rough news that the division is projecting a deficit of $1.94 million at the end of the current school year at its regular meeting on Dec. 14. The figure comes from the fall budget update that was presented by WCPS secretary treasurer Roger Hall and will now be sent to Alberta Education.

This is an additional $1.7 million shortfall from the $221,000 into the red that was projected in the budget report presented this past spring.

The biggest reason for the drastic change is the division saw a lot fewer students return to class than was projected.

“We lost 224 students, with 154 of those being in Blackfalds,” said WCPS superintendent Jayson Lovell.

WCPS expected to see some students move to Red Deer Catholic Schools new school that opened this fall in Blackfalds, but was shaken to see such a big number depart.

“We knew there was a potential of some shifting to the new school and each of our three schools monitored the situation, asking parents their intentions right up until June,” Lovell added.

“However, it wasn’t until late August and September that we saw the students moving. We do our best on student projections and have usually been quite skilled in hitting those numbers. However, this change was certainly not expected and we had no strong indication this was going to happen.”

Lovell noted this situation clearly indicates there continues to be a lot of volatility among the population in central Alberta as the economic and job challenges are still forcing parents to make changes.

The largest decrease came in Kindergarten to Grade 3 in Blackfalds at 72 fewer students, while in WCPS overall the loss in K-9 was 192, which includes a drop of 40 students in Rimbey, something Lovell added was also unexpected.

With the loss of students came a subsequent drop in revenue of just over $1.2 million to $89.39 million from the spring projection, meanwhile expenses increased to $91.33, a jump of $504,000.

That has meant administration has to work quickly to figure out how to address the shortfall.

“Administration has already started discussions on what needs to be contemplated, the caveat being we will be waiting to see what the provincial budget will have in store. However, it’s been communicated from Alberta Education that things will be tight and they will be working to manage and balance the needs of the whole province.”

Lovell added that the discussions will consider forecasts and analysis of major areas for WCPS spending with an understanding of maintaining the focal points identified in its three-year plan.

“One desire of the board for the past several years has been keeping a $2 million reserve available, which will be a challenge on a $90 million budget as that projected reserve is now $1.44 million,” he said.

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