Wolf Creek Public Schools finds themselves battling a sizable deficit after budget cuts and insurance hikes.
The school board finds themselves short $3 million dollars after losing three grant programs in wake of the provincial budget and an additional $1 million added to insurance premiums.
Eckville Elementary School and Eckville Junior/Senior High School fall within the Wolf Creek Public Schools division.
Jayson Lovell, superintendent of schools for Wolf Creek Public Schools, says the three grant programs were eliminated and replaced with a “one time transitional fund.”
“The difference between those three previous grants or funds and this current grant came in to a 1.8 million dollar difference,” said Lovell in a phone interview.
The Classroom Improvement Fund, the School Fee Reduction Funding and the Class Size Funding were the three grants cut.
According to a press release from Wolf Creek Public Schools the cuts represent a $250 per student reduction.
Lovell says the newly elected United Conservative Party had indicated challenges moving forward with the budget, but they did not anticipate the level of reduction they received.
Another unexpected cost came in the form of insurance hikes, said Lovell, who explained the insurance premiums for the board went up by a million dollars.
He says the price jump was in no relation to the budget, but instead related to previous insurers no longer offering coverage to school boards due to claim losses.
“Basically the insurance sector across Alberta was so high that the premiums were going up … and for Wolf Creek it was a million dollars extra,” explained Lovell, adding the Alberta School Board Insurance Exchange (ASBIE) negotiates with companies to establish insurance for school divisions around the province.
Despite the $3 million shortfall the students and schools won’t be impacted during this school year, assures Lovell.
He says the deficit is being filled through the board’s operational and capital reserves.
“[The shortfall] won’t directly change any of the staffing, any of the resources [or] any of the programs that we currently have in place for this year,” Lovell said.
With using capital reserves to manage the shortfall the board will be unable to purchase capital items such as six new busses to replace their current fleet, although Lovell says this is not an issue as their current fleet is in “very good shape.”
The average age of their busses is seven years and skipping the replacement bumps the usual 12 year replacement cycle up.
“It just extends the life cycle of the bus, but we maintain our busses and we certainly take pride in the safety of our fleet so we feel that’s an appropriate decision,” said Lovell.
The board meeting on Nov. 1 also came with the decision to have Lovell undertake a complete review of all operations to find efficiency’s as well as possible areas that could be reduced.
The review, with the help of his senior team and school administrators, will be held over the next couple of months and be complete in time for the spring provincial budget.
“When the board is deliberating and making decisions about the budget they will be provided with the information and they will have to make decisions about how to make sure that our budget is balanced and at the same time ensure that we maintain a high level of support and educational programs,” commented Lovell.
He added aspects such as the cost of school fees will have to be considered going into the spring deliberation due to the loss of the grant.
Lovell said a similar shortfall in the budget would be “extremely challenging” for Wolf Creek Public Schools to address without impacting students, schools and programs.
“They don’t have the reserves to then cover off another $3 million hit so that’s a concern for sure in the spring,” said Lovell.