STAR board wrestles with difficult budget

MARION LENTZ

Education Minister Dave Hancock called the Alberta government’s 2011 budget “difficult.”

While it’s true Alberta Education is receiving a 4.4-per-cent increase, school boards, including the St. Thomas Aquinas School Roman (STAR) Catholic Board, face some tough choices.

A school board’s budget provides limited financial flexibility. Most dollars are allocated toward staff salaries, and rightly so. It is the teachers, support staff, librarians, receptionists, maintenance staff, and custodians who inspire students and keep the school running efficiently. The good news is that the budget increase will cover a rise in teachers’ salary; however, a significant cut in the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) and Class Size Initiative (CSI) means that there is a shortfall for support staff salary increases and student programs.

Schools are bursting at the seams in communities across the division. Budget 2011 does not provide any additional capital funding beyond the 17 schools already being constructed throughout the province. There will be no new Catholic schools built in the division. Hancock provided a glimmer of hope by saying that there may be a way to build new schools using private money. Details of any new funding model have not been released and STAR will continue to advocate MLAs, cabinet members, and key government committees to meet the education needs in Ponoka.

STAR will undertake a detailed review of its budget over the spring. While we are grateful that the teacher salary increase is being honoured in a tough economy, we recognize that a lack of funding for new schools, the cuts to literacy and second language programs, as well as the absence of grant increases over the past three years to special education, transportation and plant operations and maintenance will make providing a first-rate education for students more challenging.

As the board wrestles with approving a balanced budget, we know that our decisions will be guided by providing the best possible education to students in our Christ-centered schools.

Maria Lentz is the chair of the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic School Division. She also represents Ponoka on the board. You can reach her at 780-986-2500.