By Cole Parkinson
With the Alberta government’s announcement that the Classroom Improvement Fund will be back for another year, Horizon School Division has some options on how the money will be used.
When the fund was originally introduced it allowed school divisions to hire additional staff and provide more supports to students.
During the board’s budget meeting on May 23, Horizon staff highlighted what the fund would do for them come next school year.
“The reality is, we have a new reality and we have to work with it. The province has given us a Band-Aid for one year. On May 11, the government announced they were approving the Classroom Improvement Fund for one more year. It’s a one time allocation and we don’t have to come to an agreement with the ATA (Alberta Teachers’ Association) on how it’s spent this time. We’ve done some preliminary surveys with our principals and our plan is to not allocate this arbitrarily. The government is insistent that it needs to be spent on staffing but our approach is going to be identifying areas of pressure,” said Phil Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations for Horizon.
With this year’s fund able to be spent on whatever the board needs, it brings plenty of different options for the board moving forward though the government has encouraged school boards to use the funds to retain staff hired through 2017/18 funding as well as to consider new supports for students with complex needs.
The biggest problem they see with another year of the program is there is no guarantee it will be back again the year after.
If the fund is shutdown after this year, Horizon may need to make hefty changes to how they operate.
“It will allow you to provide enhanced services this year that you will then look at next year and go ‘how come they deserved it this year and not next year’ and that’s the dilemma. What that means is if this fund does not come back next year, you’ll be in a position saying ‘these are the students who have needs, how many do we have and how do we provide?’ The challenge becomes as school’s say ‘the money left over from operating day to day is not enough’ and if that’s what we hear then the answer is what do we give you less of? Do you need less teacher time? Do we need to make classes bigger? Do we give you less support staff?” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools.
For the 2018/19 school year, the fund will be dispersed throughout the schools but so far they haven’t figured out exactly how much each school will get. With each school being different, the funds won’t be distributed evenly but more on the needs of the students within each facility.
“Phil did mention it is a one time piece, it’s arbitrary. It’s not everyone gets an equal amount but what’s important to remember about this piece is schools have been told what their staffing is in terms of teacher time, they’ve been told what their level of high needs assistance is and what their decentralized budgets are for next year. That Classroom Improvement Fund, no principal is aware of how much will be allocated to them, we’re in the planning stages of looking at what those needs are. Part of the requirement there is we have to submit it to Alberta Education for approval and the deadline for that is September 30,” continued Tymensen.
With this school year quickly approaching the finish line, the board will begin shifting focus to how they will split up the money.
Once that is figured out, they will need it to be approved before moving forward and the board would hope to have the funds in place for the first day of school in 2018.
“Once they approve it, then you receive the funding and can allocate it. In the past year we were approved fairly quickly and we were able to move forward in an expedited way but we also know that there were jurisdictions that got denied,” said Tymensen. “Ideally you want to have those in place on the first day of school. We’re looking at moving forward quickly. We may not get approval until July which suddenly means some of those positions may not be put into place until the very end of August or early September.”
Looking at the provincial budget that was recently passed earlier this year, Horizon staff expects more changes to come fairly quickly.
With how the budget shaped up, Johansen highlighted some of the financials.
“As we look at provincial finances, I would suggest we have more changes coming. We need to remember the province passed a deficit budget this year of $8.8 billion. That number is so large, we can’t really even comprehend the size of it. Alberta Education, the entire system in the whole province, their share of the budget is $8.4 billion,” he said. “If you laid off every teacher, assistant, principal, deputy minister, bus driver and boarded up the buildings, you would not rectify the province’s deficit.”