By Cole Parkinson
The drop of the United Conservative 2019 budget looks to have left the Horizon School Division in a worse financial position than they had anticipated.
While Horizon approved a budget in the spring that included a $424,915 deficit for the 2019-2020 school year, that number looks to have increased substantially in preliminary budget work.
During the Horizon school board of trustee regular meeting on Oct. 28, they got a quick update on how the budget was shaping up before the official document is presented to them at the next meeting in November.
“The provincial budget was released last week, which is very late. We were trying to do some preliminary groundwork on that. Over the weekend, I was able to go through the details of where we are at in our budget planning right now. So preliminary numbers, we are looking at about a $1.2 million deficit for this current year,” said Phil Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations.
Budget 2019 has consolidated expenses for the Ministry of Education being maintained at $8.2 billion in the 2019/20 fiscal year which is the same as actual spending over the prior school year.
While funding does remain the same, maintained consolidated expenses in a province with significant student enrollment growth means less funding per student.
Horizon is just one of the many divisions across Alberta that is dealing with the fallout from the UCP budget.
“Lethbridge for example, they are looking at a $2.9 million deficit so really given the size of jurisdictions, I’d say we have a similar problem. In the spring we approved a budget that was about a $425,000 deficit and that was all coming from school-based reserves. So the big changes for us this fall from the provincial budget release, they cut the class size funding for schools and they also cut the student fee replacement funding. They eliminated both of those and then they rolled out a one-year transitional fund and that fund had two different rates — one for urban boards and one for rural boards. So we received the higher rate but when you boil those things down, essentially we ended up with a $250,000 cut of funding for the current year,” continued Johansen.
The Horizon board of trustees issued an official statement to the Alberta 2019 budget in late October highlighting how they will continue forward.
“School boards are in the best position to determine how local resources are deployed. Boards have been given less money but more flexibility to meet local priorities and to maximize resources. The Ministry has communicated that this is a transition year for Alberta’s education system, as we move from the current Kindergarten to Grade 12 funding framework to a new funding and assurance model that will be rolled out as part of Budget 2020. We are anticipating significant changes with regards to funding, flexibility, and reporting when the new framework is introduced. We know that Horizon’s student success is a result of staff working with parents to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children. Together, we will continue each and every day to ensure our students get the best education possible. Thank you for all you do for Horizon’s students,” reads the press release.
Another portion slashed within the budget was the Classroom Improvement Fund, School Fee Reduction Funding and Class Size Funding.
With those funds being officially cut, they didn’t factor into Horizon’s budget as they had already assumed most wouldn’t be returning.
What was a surprise to the division was a major increase to their insurance.
“The other thing we had was a surprise phone call where our insurance rates have gone up substantially. Our property insurance, for example, is going up 274 per cent and so ultimately, that is about a $600,000 hit for us in insurance for this upcoming year,” explained Johansen, who also stated further meetings were going to happen to get more details on why such a significant rise was coming.
With both the budget and insurance rates playing a factor in the coming budget, administration is bracing for a bigger deficit, though they will be looking at ways to save money without hurting staff and students.
“If you take the little over $400,000 deficit that was planned for in the spring, you take off another $250,000 in revenue and tack on another $600,000 of insurance costs, you get to a $1.3 million deficit. We did have some extra savings in the staff rollover, the average cost of a teacher which brings us down to $1.2 million for the current year,” said Johansen. “(We’ll) go over some of the more detailed items in the budget and see what we can to save some money as we minimize impact to staff and students and try to maintain our core objectives and goals as a jurisdiction.”
The Horizon board will see the fall update to their budget at their next meeting held on Nov. 25.