WCPS rejects inclusion request from Rimbey Christian

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) has decided it will not absorb an area independent school into its fold.

Citing their own hard economic situation combined with a number of cost concerns, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) has decided it will not absorb an area independent school into its fold.

Earlier this year, the independently operated Rimbey Christian School put forward a request to become part of Wolf Creek as an alternative education opportunity. As a result, WCPS administration undertook a comprehensive review of the school which included taking a look at everything from its financial situation to bussing, staffing and the building.

That review was completed and presented to the WCPS board of trustees at its meeting on Feb. 18, when the board went with the recommendation of superintendent Larry Jacobs to not go forward with taking on the school at this time.

Along with WCPS currently in the midst of attempting to solve its own deficit of more than $2 million, Jacobs concluded they would need to significantly subsidize the operation of Rimbey Christian as well as inject a large amount of funds for a number of upgrades.

“Their special needs area is underfunded, we would need to extend our educational psychologist to include them, they need upgrades in staff training especially on inclusion of special needs students into the regular classroom,” Jacobs told the board.

“The staff are paid on a different grid than our current staff so we would need to work directly with them on making the necessary adjustments. Also right now, they don’t pay for bussing and we provide it for free. They couldn’t afford a transportation infrastructure, so that would need to be accommodated.”

In addition, Jacobs explained the technology in the school is extremely out of date and would mean significant spending to replace the entire system plus install new access points for the Internet; as well, there would need to be something worked out for use of a gymnasium as the school doesn’t have one.

The building is also in need of new windows, has no phone infrastructure like WCPS schools and a number of other maintenance work equirement since that work has so far been done on a purely volunteer basis.

“The facility is in need of a lot of work and their overall budget is only about $800,000, so that means parents and volunteers have been subsidizing it a lot,” said Jacobs.

“There is no upside for the board and in the short term, you would be on the hook for a considerable amount of money.”

Trustee Bob Huff was not enamoured with the thought in the first place and the review just cemented his belief.

“It’s in competition with our current schools in Rimbey and I’m not sure it would even survive.”

Another trustee, Barb Walker, added that it isn’t prudent or a good choice for WCPS to take on another small school at this time.

Trustees then approved a motion to reaffirm they remain with the status quo compliment of schools for the next school year.

Budget assumptions

An attempt to get some feedback on the current assumptions administration makes when it draws up its budget figures generated some discussion about the present economic reality facing WCPS.

Secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson presented trustees with a list of assumptions administration uses in different areas to come up with estimated figures for the budget it presents annually and asked for some feedback on them. He also included some assumptions that some larger school boards use that may have less impact on WCPS than others do.

However, the issue went a bit sideways briefly when Huff began focusing on the division’s present deficit and how their reserves are continually being eaten away at.

“If this trend continues, we are going to lose our reserves in a few years. Once we get to that point, we will have no more money to maintain things without cuts,” he said.

Huff added that increased pressure from a rising population, more special needs and English as a Second Language instruction and the push toward lower or no school fees without a jump in provincial funding is putting school boards in a tough spot, especially with the way the economy is now.

“With all of this, I think we need an assumption that we use our reserves cautiously. With the economic situation, we may not be able to collect those fees anyway,” he said.

In the end, all of the assumptions that were presented with an additional one concerning the judicious use of reserves were approved by the board.

Concussions

The issue surrounding concussions among youth athletics was brought forward at the request of Trustee Donna Peterson, though there is still more work to be done.

Administration was handed the issue earlier this month and requested to see what is being done by school divisions in the province on the issue.

Jacobs explained to the board that no divisions in Alberta have a policy or protocol regarding concussions, nor do the provincial associations that look after school boards or school athletics. He stated there are some in Ontario, and that he is continuing his search for more information on the topic and will stay in contact with the Alberta Schools Athletic Association as they may be building something that mimics what is being done in Ontario.