School divisions budgeting wisely
Area school divisions appear to be in good financial shape heading into the next school year.
School divisions worked hard this spring putting the final touches to their budgets, however, much of that work can be speculative.
“Right now we have a tentative budget because it is determined by our enrollment in the fall,” said Dr. Bevan Daverne, Superintendent for Golden Hills School Division.
“So, we are waiting to see what that looks like. As you know, Alberta is going through some challenging times right now. We are all hearing in the media that some families are moving to other provinces, so we are waiting to see. It looks as though our enrollment is going to be just fine. We still have many areas in the system that are growing, but we'll wait and see what September brings.”
At this point, he says they are not anticipating changes to staffing levels, but they are facing some challenges. They did dip into their accumulated surplus to balance the budget.
“One is the area of operations and maintenance. Our costs, gas bills, electrical bills keep going up, but we haven't seen an increase in grants for facilities in some time, that is a real challenge,” said Daverne.
“That is the same as in trans- portation. Our diesel prices are not the same as they were 10 years ago, but our grants have stayed the same. Buses are more expensive, costs go up and wages change, so these are real challenges.”
Christ the Redeemer School Division's Associate Superintendent Corporate Services, Michael Kilcommons says their board passed the budget in June. The division is running a less than one per cent deficit, which amounts to about $800,000, from a budget of more than $100,000,000.
“When we run a deficit budget we have to have a plan to get out of it, and we do have some money in an accumulated surplus that will cover this deficit. Our expectation and plan is that by next year we will be back on track,” said Kilcommons.
Like Golden Hills, the final budget is dependent on enrollment.
“When we submit the budget in May or June it is just a snapshot of what we think we are looking at next year. The reality is we have to get through this year. We hire an independent auditor who takes a look at our books as we wrap up. That, with the September 30 enrollment count and when our staffing is finalized, when it all comes together, we submit our final budget in November," he explains.
“What we are anticipating is about 3 per cent in growth in the coming year.”
To accommodate that po- tential growth the division has hired a couple of staff members to make sure it can accommodate more students. Another pressure to the budget is the opening of St. Francis of Assisi, a new rural school near Okotoks.
“It is going to be small and inefficient for the first year, maybe the first couple of years, and it is causing us some extra concerns with transportation until that school gets up to speed, up to capacity,” he explains. Another pressure is wages. “Teachers salaries go up every year as per the collective agreement. They move up the grid. We do have a relatively young staff, so every year we are going to be adding costs regardless of any other factors, so those three things together contribute to a relatively small deficit.”
The change in government has allowed school divisions to budget wisely without immediately depleting their re-
As you know, Alberta is going through some challenging times right now. We are all hearing in the media that some families are moving to other provinces, so we are waiting to see. It looks as though our enrollment is going to be just fine. We still have many areas in the system that are growing, but we'll wait and see what September brings." Dr. Bevan Daverne Golden Hills Superintendent
“For a while the line from the prior government was ‘you have to start spending your surpluses, or we are going to take them away.' The new statement, I'm not sure if is a reflection of the NDP or if it is Alberta Education, what they are saying now is, ‘if you have a surplus, tell us the story behind it, why you have it and what it is going to be spent on.' We have a long list of capital items that could eat up our surplus in a couple years if we did everything we wanted to or needed to; from repaving parking lots to adding portable classrooms.
“We do have a relatively small accumulated surplus and we are willing to spend it down to make sure we cover off our needs,” he said.
Michael Kilcommons... CRSD