WCPS has managed to come up with $3 million from reserves to cover a huge gap after the provincial budget slashed several grants to school boards. File photo

Provincial budget cuts, huge insurance rate hike hits division hard

WCPS deals with $3 million in lost funding

Some really hard decisions have been made by trustees at Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) in the wake of losing significant grant funding in the provincial budget.

Even though the UCP promised to maintain funding for education at previous levels, WCPS found out it would be left with a $1.8 million shortfall. Toss in a change in how school divisions are insured and the hit to WCPS financially is $3 million for this fiscal year.

“We knew that this was going to be a tough budget, but this provincial education budget creates a significant and severe shortfall in funding for Wolf Creek Public Schools,” said Pam Hansen, WCPS board chair in a press release.

“We understand the desire for fiscal restraint, but to have this change in funding, and have it come during the school year, is extremely disappointing.”

Superintendent Jayson Lovell explained the province cut three grant programs — classroom improvement fund, school fee reduction fund, and class size fund — that make up the majority of the lost funding. That averages to about $250 per student, even after the province handed over a one-time only transitional payment.

“Essentially, trustees decided the $3 million deficit would be covered through operational reserves,” Lovell said, adding the decision came at a special meeting Nov. 1.

“Although there have been no transfers to capital reserves in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, $1.1 million of that had been planned to be used for capital purchases. The Board of Trustees decision to use reserves to cover this unexpected deficit ensures there are no reductions this school year in school or district operational budgets, including front-line supports for classrooms and students.”

What it does mean is changes will need to be made to capital replacement, such as buses and other equipment, for future years.

“WCPS will retain a needs-based equipment replacement plan for 2019-20 and believe any replacement can be delayed for a couple of years without major impacts,” Lovell stated.

“As for buses, WCPS feels its current 12 year replacement cycle can be feasibly extended to 14 or 15 years.”

That being said, Lovell added the division won’t be buying any buses for the next two years.

”WCPS feels that this change does not impact the safety of our bus fleet, as our mechanics maintain our buses very well,” he said.

“A recent transportation study commissioned by the board indicated that our average bus age was very low compared to a number of other divisions.”

As for the change to insurance rates, which had nothing to do with the budget, Lovell said the division is working with the Alberta School Boards Association to lobby the government for help in covering this unexpected jump in premiums.

”WCPS is part of the Alberta School Board Insurance Exchange (ASBIE). In August, ASBIE was informed that four long-time major insurers would no longer offer insurance to school boards, due to a claim loss ratio of 594 per cent last year,” he explained.

“That was the worst year in 17 years for insurers with wind, hail and rain damage plus the 2019 wildfire season as some of the reasons for the high insurance losses. Because we were informed in August, this was unforeseen and not budgeted for, meaning a 156 per cent increase in our rates.”

Lovell added that administration is presently in the midst of starting a review of all division operations, which will take several months, in order to plan for the 2020-21 budget that is due in the spring.

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