School Division or division of schools

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Being an elected official is never easy as there are always competing interests.  Such is the case when individual school board trustees must decide what basis and how much each school will receive in revenue for the upcoming year.
Therein lies much of the divisiveness that has been apparent at Clearview School Board meetings for some time and which led to a 4 – 3 split vote on the 2013/14 budget.
The government formulizes all revenues. They use per capita formulas and then add the ‘flavours of the year’ depending on election promises, financial windfalls, or bitumen bubbles.  These include classroom-size initiative grants, equity-of-opportunity grants, small-school-by-necessity grants–all calculated with unique little formulas.
It would be simple if school boards just distributed the money exactly how it was funded by the provincial government and maintained a skeleton staff at central office for government reporting purposes and board support.  Clearview, however, has chosen a model that centralizes many services to take advantage of purchasing power, efficiencies and synergy and basically allocates money as they see fit. Unfortunately board members are divided on what is ‘fit’.
Administration’s 2013/14 budget (Option 1) proposed assisting Coronation and Stettler Middle Schools with a good portion of their deficits and continuing financial support to allow for a full-time kindergarten in Stettler and support transportation to ensure the same level of bus service next year.
It was defeated in favour of Option 2 which eliminated any extra assistance for the Coronation, Stettler Middle or Stettler Elementary schools.
A common theme among those speaking in favour of Option 2 was the bad optics around transferring $185,000 from small schools into the biggest complex (Stettler).  Another theme was that Coronation should have made staffing decisions earlier and Option 1 would only penalize those schools that did make the staffing decisions at the right time.
Option 1 supporters point out that Stettler schools, in both scenarios, are transferring $175,000 from what they earned through the Equity of Opportunity Grant to support transportation which primarily helps rural schools.
And what about the board, should their past decisions and actions also be judged?  It could easily be argued that it was the Board who made inappropriate decisions over the past few years.  Choosing to over-spend and operate in year-over-year deficit positions so as to deny the government any opportunity to claw back reserves, in hindsight, was not wise. The Board’s encouragement for schools to put as many adults in front of the students as possible has resulted in unsustainable staffing. Now we have lives devastated through layoffs and expectations of parents and students dashed.
Part of the Board’s spending frenzy resulted in Stettler Elementary moving into a full-time kindergarten program even though only half-time funding is provided by the government.  Even the example of Donalda getting a Board-funded teacher, only to have funding pulled back, will mean Donalda School must adjust to a staff loss of 1.2 rather than just a .2 position in 2013/14.
If the majority of board members are concerned about unfair optics perhaps Stettler parents should start campaigning to keep their $175,000?  That, however, would guarantee even more horrid bus rides for sparsely populated rural schools. It would not be a good thing.
Maybe it’s time the parents of the 586 students who attend Coronation and Stettler School (only 28 students less than the seven smaller schools combined) and the parents of the 100 kindergarten kids in Stettler Elementary should rise up and remind board members that real kids go to these schools. The board knew exactly what was happening in all three schools every year leading up to the 2013/14 budget and did nothing. Does that mean 686 kids should bear the consequences of bad judgments or unforeseen expenses or changes to formulas that is completely outside their control?
Trustee Yvonne Cassidy, representative for Big Valley voted for Option 1 because it was prepared by those closest to the action (administration and principals) and she thought it was fair.  Her vote supported helping Coronation and Middle School’s deficit situations, without completely bailing them out, so as to hold them partially responsible.  Her vote upheld the Board’s previous commitment to a full-time kindergarten program in Stettler. Her vote meant Stettler would transfer $175,000 of their Equity of Opportunity Grant to enable rural schools to maintain current bus routes. Her vote also meant Big Valley School would forego $20,395 in extra revenue (Option 2).  It was an impressive show of balancing her school’s most critical need (transportation funding) and letting go of monies slated for special programming at Big Valley to help other schools in the division.
It’s not too late. The Board is looking for budget feedback until the middle of May.

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