ECA Review Reporter
During the regular school board meeting on Wednesday, November 28, Prairie Land School Division trustees were presented with the 2012-2013 fall budget update.
Based in part on declining enrollment, the board was forced to cut resource funding and professional development dollars.
The cuts, according to Superintendent Wes Neumeier, were made to ensure as much money as possible made it into the classrooms.
“We prioritized classrooms over external items,” Neumeier told the Review. “It gave us an opportunity to really identify our priorities.”
Cost-cutting measures included cutting the amount of travel required to attend meetings. The board has found cost savings by taking advantage of video conferencing technology to participate in meetings remotely.
Despite the cuts, the board is still facing an operating deficit of $255,596 which will be paid out of cash reserves.
The latest in a series of deficit budgets, Neumeier says that the time has come to start considering the future.
“We’re getting to the point where we have to balance the budget,” Neumeier said.
With the removal of the Rural Stabilization Grant by 2013, the school division will face a loss of $495,000 in government funding in next year’s budget.
The board’s strategy in the new year will be seeking a more equitable funding model for Alberta’s rural schools.
“We need to advocate for adequate funding,” Neumeier said. “Prairie Land has small schools, they are small by necessity.”
According to Neumeier, the issue lies with how the Alberta government distributes money to school boards. The current system bases funding on a per pupil basis, which is designed to distribute provincial education dollars based on enrollment. Small schools, however, don’t receive the money that they require to operate under this formula. With actual enrollments falling behind the spring projections, the school board received about $150,000 less than it expected for this school year.
“It’s time for the government to adequately fund rural education,” Neumeier said.
Geographically one of the largest school divisions in Alberta, Prairie Land Schools supports nine public schools and nine Hutterite colony schools.