Zone 4 school boards to meet with education minister

Clearview Public Schools will be among the school divisions meeting with provincial education minister

Clearview Public Schools will be among the school divisions meeting with provincial education minister Gordon Dirks in February.

Dirks, who was appointed to cabinet by Premier Jim Prentice in September, will meet with the divisions in central Alberta on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Red Deer Lodge.

Discussing the upcoming meeting with her Clearview board colleagues during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 13, board chair Cheri Neitz said the minister “wants to meet with as many school boards as possible.”

She and superintendent Peter Barron are expected to represent Clearview at the Zone 4 meeting with Dirks, where each division will be allotted time to converse with the minister.

Neitz told the board that Dirks is expecting two or three examples of how the division is working to meet the goals of Inspiring Education, plus a brief review of two key challenges faced by the division.

The division has also been asked to provide its perspective on the Grade 12 diploma exam weightings.

The board discussed possible points to raise during the meeting with Dirks, identifying declining enrolment and maintaining basic programming as some of the division’s key challenges.

Trustees were also keen on asking about possible budget cuts, thought likely in the face of declining oil and natural gas prices.

“I think we need to preserve what we have out here if they’re going to be cutting,” said Neitz, while vice-chair John Schofer said cuts were inevitable in the face of what he called a “double whammy” to the province’s revenues.

Schofer said the division must demonstrate to Dirks that its schools are as viable as those in urban centres, and equally deserving of continued support.

Trustee Karen Holloway suggested asking about whether Alberta Education could remain committed to funding promises it has already made.

Dave Goodwin suggested mentioning transportation costs as well as the likelihood of a needs-based funding model, as opposed to funding based on student numbers.

Ken Checkel mentioned two existing grant programs — Small Schools by Necessity, and Equity of Opportunity — and the need for them to remain in place.

He also noted that at past meetings, a strategy of brevity and directness has worked best, given that the divisions are typically allotted only a short time to speak with the minister.

“We’ve always been pretty direct,” he said, while Schofer suggested that the division “give them the Reader’s Digest (version) rather than a novel.”

Division staff will draft a summary of those points to be presented to Alberta Education at the meeting next month.

Other business

Superintendent Peter Barron made his customary report to the board, mentioning the upcoming Project-Based Learning sessions, and providing an update on the technology services division’s movement to Gmail and Google Apps for Education.

Trustees discussed the planning for Staff Appreciation Week, scheduled for Feb. 8 to 14. Each trustee will visit the schools in their wards to present tokens of appreciation on behalf of the division.

Two workshops are coming up next month: a board and administration workshop on Feb. 2 that will include conversations on the budget, and a school council workshop on Feb. 15.

Associate superintendent Peter Neale presented the first quarter financial report,  ending Nov. 30, 2014, adding a couple of notes.

Neale observed that expenditures for substitute teachers serving three days or longer are already at 43 per cent of the budget. If the trend continues through the year, he said, that category could go over budget by nearly $100,000.

He also noted a potential funding gap for 2015-2016, likely to result in the wake of anticipated cuts to Alberta Education. Assuming a two per cent pay increase for staff next year and no funding increases from the province, the gap is estimated at approximately $686,500.

Trustees also discussed the division’s plans for the Stettler Trade Show, coming up in April.

The division board’s next regular meeting will be held at the Clearview Public Schools office on Thursday, Jan. 29, beginning at 10 a.m.