By J.W. Schnarr
The Notley government’s announced rollbacks to PC education spending cuts was welcome news for the Horizon School Division, who will now be putting forward another revised budget at their next meeting.
“We’re pretty excited about the additional funding and what it can do for kids,” said School superintendent Wilco Tymensen.
In their March 26 budget, the division was facing a $1.6 million shortfall and was planning on what was called “extensive” cuts to some programs.
“There were extensive cuts being proposed,” said Tymensen.
“The big dilemma was that our reserves were basically frozen, and we were unable to access those.”
The NDP government has since rolled back those cuts and changes to the education budget, and are once more giving school boards local autonomy when it comes to accessing their reserves.
Tymensen said that local autonomy is crucial to the successful operation of the division.
“We are excited to hear that,” he said. “Our board has been fiscally responsible. Many of those funds are set aside for specific purposes, and we can once again determine how to use the funds in the best way to make sure the kids in our schools are successful.”
Tymensen said one of the biggest issues of the PC education budget slash was a planned freeze on funding for new students coming into the province for the next three years.
“There were about 18,000 new students expected to come into the Alberta school system next year,” he said. “Under the old system, there was no funding for those kids. Even in our jurisdiction, we were conservatively estimating a minimum number of 50 to 60 new kids coming in. And there would be zero dollars for those kids. And yet we had full intention of providing educational opportunities and programming for those kids.”
He went on to say the numbers could have been more dire for the division if that expected number shot up to 100 or 150 students, which has happened in the past.
“Last year, we had over 100 kids who showed up in September, that we weren’t expecting.”
Tymensen said a modified budget would be brought up for discussion at their next board meeting, scheduled for June 16.
“My assumption is that rather than finding $1.6 million worth of cuts, we may only be talking about $600,000 in cuts. We may be looking at close to $1 million in additional funding, given that we also will be able to access our reserves.”
“So is there still going to be cuts?” he asked.
“Possibly. Will they be anywhere close to what we were looking at back in March? No, absolutely not. We expect to have much less cuts to programs, services, and staffing. We’re looking forward to being able to provide a high-quality educational opportunity and experience for our kids for next year.”
In 2014, a small budget shortfall was covered by reserve funds in order to balance the budget. Tymensen said another transfer from reserves would also be part of the discussion, but ultimately it would be up to the board to decide.
Tymensen also underscored what he sees as the value of education for both the students and society as a whole.
“If you think about the kids we receive in our schools, that is our future,” said Tymensen. “Those are our future leaders, our future citizens. We have to make sure we are providing for their future, and providing a proper education.”