School boards battle new provincial budget

PC government hits back saying “school boards are not school banks."

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) and the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School Division (STAR) joined 17 other school boards across Alberta on Monday, April 20 to ask the provincial government to reconsider its budget and take into account how Albertan school divisions will be impacted by budget cuts.

STAR board chair John Tomkinson is hoping the Government of Alberta will reconsider its position and work with school boards on a collaborative approach to sustain student success, a press release issued April 20 stated.

“For the future of an equal, adequate, and sustainable education system that serves all children, now is the time for all concerned about our children’s future to speak out,” said Tomkinson in the release.

“This election campaign we are asking everyone concerned about education in Alberta to discuss this issue with the candidates in your area and send a clear message to the Government that our kids should be a priority,” he added.

A press statement released jointly by the school boards states, “According to provincial projections, there will be 12,000 additional students in Alberta next year and approximately 36,000 over the next three years. According to the provincial fiscal plan, this growth in student population is not, and will not, be funded.”

The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta also released a press statement on April 20, in response to the school boards’ request.

“Statements made by Alberta school boards today with respect to provincial funding for non-teaching operations do not provide the full picture to Alberta parents,” the statement read.

It continued, Alberta school boards have a combined total of more than $460 million in their savings accounts. “The PC government’s expectation is for boards to make full use of their reserve accounts, if need be, in the coming year in order to transition. These reserves are funding that was paid by the taxpayer and meant to serve the needs of students.”

The provincial budget is looking for school boards to find 2.7 per cent in administrative and non-teacher cost savings. The press release states all teacher positions remain protected.

“This year, my department reduced its operating budget by nine per cent and directed these savings to the front lines. I’ve been clear all along that school boards will be permitted to use their reserve funds if needed to meet front-line service needs in the coming fiscal year while they find savings in non-teacher costs – that is what this money is there for. These are school boards, not school banks,” Minister of Education Gordon Banks says in the release.

WCPS superintendent Larry Jacobs could not be reached for comments before press time.