Clearview Public Schools presented their 2017-2018 projected budget at the school board meeting on Thursday May 4, predicting a deficit $561,559.
According to Clearview Public Schools Associate Superintendent of Business and Finance Peter Neale, who presented the budget at Thursday’s meeting, this deficit is appropriate based on the current enrolment and funding levels for Clearview Public Schools.
“Our current deficit represents a spending down of our school reserves, which is planned and appropriate, as the board is supporting us spending our dollars that we have today on our students today, while at the same time planning for next year,” Neale said.
Looking forward, Neale doesn’t expect students or parents to see any changes at the school level in the coming year based on the projected budget, but he noted that the spending down of reserves could have long-term impacts if the board isn’t able to recover these expenses.
“Any time there’s a reduction in students or a reduction in how much we get for the students we do have, then the long term is eventual staffing reductions,” Neale said.
He added, however, that the board is “not looking at making significant staffing reductions next year because we have reserves.”
The strategy of spending down reserves to support current students is something that the board has been following for several years, partly based on the policies of the previous PC provincial government, according to Clearview Public Schools Vice Chair and Stettler Trustee Dave Goodwin.
It was partly because of this concern that the overall reserve level throughout Clearview Public Schools has been reduced from approximately $5 million eight years ago to the current level of around $1.5 million.
“If you’re a $34-million operation, that’s a significant decrease, which is appropriate because we’re trying to maintain services to kids,” Neale said.
While the change in provincial governments in 2015 meant that the government never followed through on reclaiming school reserves, other policy changes from the current provincial government are also having an effect on Clearview’s budgets.
The NDP has been planning to reduce school fees for both high school and elementary students, but this has meant some changes to the ways that schools are funded, and these changes will have a disproportionately negative effect on rural schools, according to Goodwin.
In order to compensate for the revenue loss from lowering school fees, the provincial government has lowered the cap on credit enrolment units (CEUs) for high school students from 60 to 45 CEUs.
Based on this decision, high school students will still be allowed to take as many credit units as they are able to fit into their schedule, but the provincial government will only provide grant funding for up to 45 CEUs, while the rest will be up to school boards to cover.
The impact of this change to Clearview high schools, according to Neale, amounts to approximately $270,000.
At the same time, the provincial government has also made changes to the small schools by necessity program, which covers elementary schools such as Botha and Erskine.
While Botha and Erskine schools sit within the Stettler Elementary School (SES) boundary, Clearview Public Schools has been receiving funding to operate the smaller schools because enrolment levels at SES have been higher than 80 per cent, meaning that the school was considered to be full.
The provincial government’s proposed changes, however, mean that a school will only be considered full when it reaches100 per cent enrolment, meaning that schools like Botha and Erskine could lose the small schools by necessity funding.