Gateway Gazette

Foothills School Division Responds to Budget Constraints

Dear Minister Dirks:

Re: Budget Constraints, 2015/16

Foothills School Division appreciates the tremendous efforts that Alberta Education and the Province puts forth on behalf of the students of Alberta. We also understand the enormous constraints that are facing all Albertans as we grapple with the considerable gap between projected revenues and departmental expenditures. While we believe that Foothills and other boards are doing a great job in educating our future citizens and leaders, as PISA scores and other measures attest, we accept the premise that fiscal responsibility behooves us to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. We have, and continue to use, the following divisional Guiding Principles as set out in our Three-Year Education Plan in setting our learning direction and making fiscal decisions:

Learner-centered – The needs of our students are first and foremost when making decisions.

Innovation to promote and strive for excellence – FSD is a learning organization committed to creative, innovative and entrepreneurial approaches, which are promoted and supported to achieve high standards and excellence in education.

Committed to the larger FSD team – Decisions are informed by high quality evidence, aligned with the FSD Vision for Leading and Supporting Learning, and are reflective of what is in the best interests of students throughout the Division as a whole.

Flexible and responsive – Learning opportunities are meaningful and appropriate for each learner’s needs and abilities. The education system must also be flexible in responding to the changing needs of both local and global communities in order for learning opportunities to remain current and relevant.

Fair and equitable – Each learner has fair and reasonable access to educational opportunities. Some learners will need additional specialized support in order to fully access these opportunities.

Sustainable and efficient uses of resources – Resources (both financial and human) are optimized to support student learning.

Engaged communities – Stakeholders work together as collaborative partners to advance common goals that promote and support learning.

Accountable and transparent – Outcomes of our students’ achievements and use of funding are clearly communicated to stakeholders. Transparency of results and decision-making processes are foundational in our work. Research, evidence and analysis are used to ensure that resources are allocated for the maximum benefit of students.

This budget will certainly have a considerable impact on the way boards will be able to offer services; we need to be very clear, this will impact students. The most problematic changes before us are:

  • no funding for new students; requirement to make changes to the smallest budget areas,
  • operations and maintenance are significantly underfunded;
  • our most vulnerable students are, for the most part, serviced by support staff, which is one of the few areas we are able to reduce.

Hence, in order for us to meet these challenges we would appreciate the Province’s consideration in allowing us to make the appropriate decisions regarding budget challenges at the local level, specifically accessing board reserves and removing limitations regarding where we can make adjustments to our budgets. Our Board had embarked upon a three year plan to utilize and draw down reserve dollars, to enable us to provide high quality programming for the students we are legally and morally obligated to serve, while exercising fiscal responsibility and prudence. While there are a number of reasons for our current financial position, the greatest is that over the last few years our enrolment growth has increased at a significantly higher rate than projected and schools have been reluctant to add staff and change schedules once the school year has started.

In the current (2014-2015) school year we have planned on a deficit budget, largely attributed to adding teaching staff. Some of the other expenditures that we have projected to take out of reserves over the next few years include:

  • planning costs related to current capital projects (our new high school announced for the Aldersyde area),
  • additional teachers in classrooms to address increased enrolments,
  • providing additional classroom supports to our most vulnerable students,
  • outfitting the new joint GOA/FSD building in High River,
  • enabling schools to purchase school based materials (school budget reserves),
  • covering board costs necessitated by modular classroom additions not funded by the province, and
  • staff costs not covered by provincial funding (increased costs for support and certified staff)

We acknowledge, and appreciate, that the Province made commitments to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, which it helped fund in the budget. Unfortunately, constraints regarding how we can deploy teachers, and limiting our ability to change factors such as PTR and class size, can and will increase teacher workload and stress as we will be required to reduce classroom supports. This will have an adverse impact on our students, particularly those with the greatest need, and therefore most vulnerable. We also believe this will have a deleterious effect on teachers and the classroom environment.

In conclusion, should the announced reductions and changes continue to stand, we implore you to continue to work with your Department, caucus and Treasury Board to allow our Board and all School Divisions some budgetary and decision-making flexibility as outlined previously so that we may continue to adjudicate local solutions that work in the best interests of the students we serve.

Thank you for your due consideration.
Respectfully,
Christine Pretty
Board Chair, Foothills School Division

Cc. Alberta School Boards Association
Alberta Public and Separate School Boards
Public School Board Association
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