WCPS struggles with frozen reserves

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) and other school divisions across the province continue to face mounting challenges.

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) and other school divisions across the province continue to face mounting challenges created by the provincial government’s budget, released in late March.

On Monday, April 20, heads of 19 school boards across the province met in hopes of convincing the Government of Alberta to improve the situation divisions are struggling with.

On Monday, April 27, Zone 4, which WCPS is a part of, also met to raise concerns about how the budget would impact communities. The Zone 4 press statement was released Friday, May 1.

WCPS superintendent Larry Jacobs says the main purpose of the April 20 meeting was to convince the government to give schools and school boards access to their reserves, which remain frozen.

At the WCPS board of trustees’ Tuesday, April 21 meeting, Jacobs confirmed with the trustees he would send an application in hopes of being granted access to $1.5 million in reserves.

Also on April 20, the government released a press statement saying, “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,” Gordon Dirks, Minister of Education.

“These are school boards, not school banks,” Dirks continued.

However, on March 26, WCPS received a letter from deputy minister of education Lorna Rosen which states school boards require approval from the minister for access to its operating reserves for the 2015/16 school year.

Jacobs says he does not expect to hear back on the statues of the application for days after the provincial election.

“I think there was a perception that school boards should spend all their money every year,” said Jacobs, explaining why he believes the reserves were frozen.

“We’re not saving just to build a bank. We’re saving money to meet our long term needs,” he added.

By freezing the reserves, Jacobs says the Government of Alberta has taken away board’s ability to plan prudently. “School boards don’t have that privilege anymore.”

In the Zone 4 press release, Diane MacKay, ASBA Zone 4 chair says, “We join other boards in asking the government to reconsider the budget and work with school districts in creating one that exercises fiscal restraint.”

However, Jacobs says reworking the budget may also be too difficult for boards to cope with and he mainly wants boards to have their reserves back. “We’re already well on our way to building the budget based on what we already know.”

Jacobs says without the reserves all aspects of the division will be impacted. “We can’t plan for anything different. We can’t plan for programming needs.”

Without the reserves, Jacobs says smaller schools such as Mecca Glen and Crestomere will face even more funding challenges than they already do, in the next school year. “It’s building into a situation where smaller schools are facing more stresses,” he explained.

This will prove especially bad if some of the division’s estimated 150-200 non-funded students arriving next year come to these schools.

“It depends on what grades they come in at and it depends on what area they come into,” said Jacobs.

“We have people that are immigrating to Canada from all over the world, they will come to Alberta, too,” he added.

With none of the students funded and so far no reserves to speak of, supports, such as time and resources, teachers require to handle the new students and the ones already in the division could suffer to some degree.

“We have to reduce by about $3 million. All things the jurisdiction does will be affected,” said Jacobs.

What is affected and how depends on the division’s priorities but Jacobs says they are trying to reduce everything in an equitable manner.

He added reductions does not necessarily mean jobs lost. However, there is a possibility of fewer hours in some positions. “That will be site-based decisions,” he said.

Jacobs says until the dust of the election settles, the Government of Alberta education department is essentially frozen, leaving school boards across the province waiting with baited breath to see if their situation will improve.

 

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