Big Valley, Erskine schools like the status quo

It was Stettler’s neighbouring communities of Big Valley and Erskine turn to meet with school trustees and administration

It was Stettler’s neighbouring communities of Big Valley and Erskine turn to meet with school trustees and administration as Clearview continued its touring “community consultation meetings” last week.

Crowds weren’t big, likely because little change is expected in staffing at either school as Clearview School Division tries to balance its budget largely through staff reductions.

About 40 community members attended the Big Valley meeting Tuesday, while attendance was somewhat lighter Thursday in Erskine, at about 25.

Alberta Education’s Doug Coffin, Zone 4 director of field services, attended the Erskine meeting. It was the first in the Clearview tour to have representation from the province.

Coffin was at the meeting as an observer and didn’t address the crowd.

He said he was listening to the discussion and looking to “take something back” to Alberta Education.

Superintendent John Bailey explained the division’s financial history and the reason it came to have almost a $1-million deficit.

He said reserves were intentionally spent down to keep as many teachers in front of students for as long as possible.

It was deemed high reserves would send a message to the province that the school board was in a position to receive less than full funding.

With reserves expected to fall to $1.6 million by the end of the current school year, Bailey said it couldn’t drop any further as the division needs to maintain at least five per cent of his annual $32-million budget in reserve for emergencies and to cover one month of expenditures.

Bailey pointed out the division has 265 fewer student this year than in 2003-04, but only six fewer teachers.

Because staffing accounts for about 75 per cent of the total budget, few options other than staff reductions are available to balance the budget, he said.

Big Valley principal Corry Raugust said there would be no change in staffing. Big Valley plans to retain its 5.5 full-time-equivalent teachers.

Enrolment was projected to be 75 students for 2013-14 — a slight drop.

Administration and trustees fielded a number of questions and heard comments from those attending.

Parents made it clear they didn’t want a reconfiguration that would see their grades 7 to 9 students sent to Stettler.

Questions included several related to transportation and flex-Fridays, and how much money could be saved.

It was suggested provincial education officials should be in attendance at community meetings to understand the need to come up with a revamped funding formula to address declining enrolments in rural Alberta.

At the Erskine meeting, principal Deb Spiller said Erskine School was “in good financial shape,” and as expected, would be able to retain its 8.5 teachers.

“That’s good news,” she said.

The school projects an increase in enrolment next year of five students, bringing the total to 120 students.

Spiller said Erskine School reserves were spent on programming and equipment to get the reserve closer to board recommendation.

Clearview chairman Ken Checkel explained funding allocation to the schools as a board decision with input from principals.

The board redistributes the base amount of $6,561.68 per student from the province and the various grants — small schools by necessity and class-size initiative — to the schools in a made-in-Clearview formula.

In the question-and-answer session, parents wanted to see greater efficiencies in the $3-million transportation budget and expressed an interest in flex-Fridays.

There’s one meeting left in the “community consultation” process — a second meeting in Stettler, to accommodate Stettler’s larger population, this coming Monday, May 13.

Coffin said the intention is to have two zone representatives from Alberta education at the Stettler meeting.