Clearview Board split over budget

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A 4 – 3 split decision to approve budget Option 2 at the Trustee’s meeting on April 23, 2013 moved Clearview School District one step closer to finalizing their 2013-14 budget.  It’s now in the hands of principals to make staff cuts, find efficiencies, cut fat and balance their school budgets based on revenues allocated by the Board.
Two budget alternatives were considered, Option 1, proposed by Administration, in consultation with principals, and Option 2, requested by Chairman Ken Checkel.
Voting for Option 2 were Karen Holloway (Castor), Ken Checkel (Coronation, Brownfield), Cheri Neitz (Donalda, Erskine) and Rhonda Maginn (Botha, Byemoor). Opposed to the motion were Yvette Cassidy (Big Valley), Peter Simons (Stettler) and Patty Dittrick (Stettler).
Option 1 moved money from different funding silos to support current bus routes in rural areas, offset a good portion of the deficits in the Coronation and Stettler Middle School and continue support for the full-time kindergarten program at Stettler Elementary and reduce school reserves.
Option 2 distributed Class Size Initiative (CSI) grants and Equal Opportunity Density grants as earned.  From the Equity of Opportunity Per Student and Equity of Opportunity Distance grants (which all schools earn), $300,000 was moved into Transportation. Under Option 2 the Coronation and Stettler Middle School will need to recover the entire amount of their debt within next year’s budget. Stettler Elementary will no longer receive help from the Board to fund a full-time kindergarten program. Donalda will lose one full-time staff member who was funded by the board last year, bringing their staff complement down by 1.2 FTEs.
Coronation School will see a number of staff cuts in either scenario.
Superintendent Bailey
“Past practice has been to provide relief to schools facing deficits, but not help them out entirely,” said John Bailey.  At the April 16 meeting he reminded trustees that we cannot paint all schools with one brush.  “Numbers love to be used by government and media because it’s easy but it is not the whole story.”  Each school is unique.
Trustee Holloway
When making her motion in favour of Option 2, Karen Holloway argued that Option 1 rewards “a school that should have made staff adjustments two years ago and penalizes another school that did make decisions at the appropriate time”.  When asked which schools she was referring to, Holloway said, “Coronation and Brownfield.”  “Coronation will have to deal with their deficit some way or the other,” said Holloway.  Reserves should be used by schools to provide additional programming.  In her concluding remarks she expressed concern about “the optics of $185,000 being transferred into our biggest complex (Stettler).”
Trustee Cassidy
Yvette Cassidy supported Option 1 arguing that she is more comfortable with a budget developed by the people closest to individual school situations, rather than Trustees. “If we are a division of schools, let’s take money and spread it where it’s needed,” said Cassidy.   She feels Option 1 is fairer and there’s lots of room to help each other.  Cassidy noted that extra money is being transferred to Big Valley from money earned primarily by Stettler schools to assist with costly bussing issues in Big Valley.  Cassidy also spoke out against school-based reserves, many of which are over the five per cent threshold recommended by the Board.  “Maybe principals would feel a little more confident in using their reserves if they knew the board would be there for them when the unexpected happened.”
Trustee Simons
“One day the argument is grants should be distributed the way they are generated, the next day the Board does as it sees fit,” said Peter Simons.  In both Options, “we’ve taken $300,000 from Equity of Opportunity grants (of which $150,000 was earned by Stettler students) and moved it into transportation which primarily helps students outside of Stettler.” Yet in Option 2, the Density Portion of the Equity of Opportunity Grant (which is earned only by schools outside of Stettler) is being given only to schools that earn it. “Grants are provided for the division,” said Simons.  “That’s why money generated by Stettler kids is being used to fund rural transportation.”  Simons could not support Option 2.
Trustee Dittrick
“When we talk about a school (Coronation) that did not make staff changes quick enough, is that fair?”, asked Patti Dittrick.  “The superintendent advised the board regularly about the Coronation situation, yet the board did nothing about it.” Clearview School District’s goal has been to keep as many people in front of students as possible because it’s proven to show better outcomes.  Dittrick also reiterated a number of times her concerns with cash reserves accumulating within individual schools.  Derrick did not believe Option 2 balances the needs of the district and could not support it.
“When we first started talking about the budget, it was agreed everyone was going to share in the pain, but I haven’t seen the sharing of pain in the same way at Central Office”, said Dittrick.
Trustee Maginn
In voting for Option 2, Rhonda Maginn suggested that the school deficits should be looked at next year.  When queried why next year and not this year, Maginn had no response.
Trustee Neitz
Cheri Neitz voted for Option 2. “I see all the funding comes from small schools and we are not putting back all the money they earn”, said Neitz.  “Our children in rural schools should have opportunity for more programming”.
Chairman Checkel
Ken Checkel cast the tie-breaking vote.  Although he said he could support either Option, his choice was Option 2.
Residents and parents have until May 15, 2013 to give feedback on the budget.  It is posted on the Clearview School District web page.

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