Almost a year after he was elected MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, Rick Strankman attended his first Clearview School Division meeting last Tuesday.
Strankman said that he was “very inexperienced” with school issues, but was “anxious to hear concerns.”
Trustees outlined details of grants and funding agreements and the challenges the division faces with budgets, declining enrolment, transportation and Alberta Teachers’ Association negotiations.
They said one of the primary problems is the downturn in enrolment — a drop of 10 per cent in the past 10 years.
With provincial funding is processed largely on a per-capita basis, the division has been negatively impacted.
Strankman said the Prairieland School Division has been hit even harder, with a decline in enrolment of almost 24 per cent in the past 10 years.
The Wildrose MLA suggested his party could lobby the government to bring back the fuel subsidy.
The subsidy, eliminated April 1, brought in about $220,000 to Clearview last year.
Castor trustee Karen Holloway cautioned to “be a little careful” in proposing a return of fuel funding.
She said the Clearview division would receive more than $900,000 through the Equity of Opportunity grant and part of that money was to compensate for the loss of the fuel benefit.
Trustee Peter Simons reminded Strankman that the Wildrose platform would implement more cost-cutting measures.
“I don’t see how that option will solve our funding challenges,” Simons said.
Strankman asked if there were any ongoing issues with Mennonite or Hutterite schools.
He said he’s concerned some of those students “might drop through the cracks” and that was “going to be a social issue.”
Strankman said there’s a shortage of skilled workers, and it’s important to teach kids to learn so they can earn more money.
Clearview trustees said they could use help from Strankman in lobbying the minister of education to enable “easier” transportation busing agreements with the East Central Catholic school division.
Strankman said he heard “good points and they were well taken.”
Trustees also discussed the revised board budget at length.
At the community consultation meeting in Castor last Wednesday, board chairman Ken Checkel said the “biggest job we do is to figure out how to allocate funding.”
He said the “made-in-Clearview funding formula” is flexible locally.
The province doesn’t attach strings to the funding it sends to school boards.
Depending how dollars are allocated for transportation and instruction, budget reductions could mean reduced staff or cuts to bus routes.
The board meets April 16 and plans to pass its 2013-14 budget in May.