Budget 2020-21: Letter to the community from the Board Chair

Dear students, parents, and staff:

Throughout this pandemic, we have come together, united as a faith and learning community. Although our students, families, and staff have faced many challenges, I am amazed at how our community has responded and adapted. We are deeply grateful for the patience and support that you have demonstrated as we plan within new and evolving realities for what lies ahead.

As we near the end of this school year, I would like to share with you, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, some important information about our challenges and opportunities over the course of this school year (2019-2020). I also want to provide an update on our budget for the upcoming school year (2020-2021) to illuminate how we will approach a new provincial funding model to continue our track record of excellence in student learning. 

2019-2020

Like all school jurisdictions in Alberta, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools (GSACRD) has faced significant challenges that impact all of our budget decisions. In the Spring of 2019, Alberta Education discontinued its Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF), which, for us, resulted in a decrease of $736,000. In the Fall of 2019, the province reduced our overall funding by $2.4 million, due to its efforts to address the realities of our economic climate. Consequently, we adjusted our budget mid-year by reducing expenditures, depleting our entire operating reserves, and regrettably, reducing staff in late-2019 and early-2020.

This Spring, the Alberta Government introduced several changes to how it will fund education in this province, in order to support its vision for sustainable, predictable, and more efficient funding to school divisions. The changes include a revised assurance and funding model that reduces the number of available grants from 36 to 15. The province has guaranteed a small increase in funding, primarily for operations and maintenance. These dollars are appreciated, considering the 274% increase in property insurance premiums that our Division faced last Fall.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government needed to secure additional resources to address Alberta’s COVID-19 response. As a result, we faced a funding reduction of $1 million. We temporarily reduced the number of uncertificated staff by 116 at the end of April and addressed transportation contracts. These temporary reductions were difficult but did not diminish the high-quality work done by our remaining staff.

We also anticipate a significant loss of revenue from rentals, fees, and other school-generated sources, as a result of closures, cancellations, and restrictions surrounding the current global pandemic.  

Although we faced many challenges in 2019-2020, Alberta Education announced an opportunity for school authorities to apply for additional funds to complete infrastructure and maintenance projects. I am pleased to share that GSACRD will receive up to $2.5 million in provincial funding for major repairs and upgrades to our schools. This is in addition to our regular infrastructure and maintenance projects. These capital upgrades will benefit both current and future students and staff, as well as our communities, and will enhance and prolong the life and use of these facilities.

Budget 2020-2021

In May, your Board of Trustees approved the budget for the 2020-2021 school year. Throughout the lengthy budget-development process, our goal was to invest and align our resources in ways that positively impact students’ success, while ensuring fiscal responsibility. Reflecting our division’s commitment to transparency, I want to share with you some highlights from next year’s budget.

The majority (76%) of our nearly $70-million budget is allocated to instruction. The remaining dollars are dedicated to transportation, building maintenance, governance, and administration.

As a result of the province’s funding changes, GSACRD needs to make several adjustments to Early Childhood Services, our High School Outreach program, and Specialized Learning Supports for K to Grade 12 students.

Since Program Unit Funding (PUF) will only be provided to Pre-K students with diverse learning needs, we will have fewer Pre-K programs next year. Kindergarten students who need particular supports will be funded through the new provincial Specialized Learning Support Grant, which allocates funds to support all students (K to Grade 12). This also means that the number of students with diverse learning needs per classroom may increase. Although overall specialized learning supports will be reduced, students who require these services will continue to receive one-on-one, targeted, or universal supports that are dependent upon their specific needs.

Another change in the new provincial funding model is the way high school outreach programs will be funded. In the past, schools received dollars based on the number of credits students took. Going forward, each high school student will be funded based on a flat rate, which will be gradually discounted in years four and five. Starting in 2020-2021, our outreach program will be housed in the lower level of the division office. Renovations will take place over the summer, and the space will be ready for students in the Fall.

Through the new funding framework, our Division will receive $3.5-million to help transition to the new model. While we are grateful to the province for these dollars, we know that this allocation will end in 2023. As a result, we will continue to work collaboratively to ensure that as much resourcing as possible is dedicated to classrooms.

Thanks to a successful Capital Plan application to the government, approximately $3 million in funding from Alberta Infrastructure will be dedicated to modernizing the Foods, Fashion, and Cosmetology Labs at Morinville Community High School. This project will address modifications to plumbing, HVAC, electrical, fire protection, and installation of an elevator to provide barrier-free access to the building.

Finally, recognizing that these are challenging times for many of our families, the Board has decided to keep transportation fees at the same rate as in 2019-2020.

What all these changes mean for us as a school division is that we must adapt, just as all healthy organizations do, to continue providing a quality education to our students. Your board, through consultation with our administration and community partners, has developed a budget that reflects both the new provincial funding model and our current circumstances and that reallocates our limited dollars with as minimal impact as possible to class sizes and instruction.

Much to celebrate

Despite our obstacles, we have much to celebrate and to look forward to:

  • Our newest school – Kateri Tekakwitha Academy (pre-K to Grade 5) – will officially open its doors this fall, approximately six years after the province announced funding for the school in 2014. Our deepest appreciation goes to the Alberta Government for responding to the critical need for a new school in this community and for providing the funds to make this school a reality.

  • Our most current provincial accountability results continue to demonstrate strong success with no declining results and the vast majority of provincial assessments being in the “excellent” category.

  • GSACRD has been globally recognized for its focus on both employee engagement and nurturing students’ strengths. In April, the Division received the 2020 Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award (GEWA), an award that recognizes organizations for their extraordinary ability to create engaged workplace cultures that drive specific business outcomes. In May, GSACRD was announced as a recipient of the 2020 Don Clifton Strengths for Students Award, which recognizes school authorities, colleges, and universities that enable students to apply their strengths to thrive in school and in all areas of their lives. 

We realize that some of the changes we have mentioned may be challenging to accept at this time.  However, we are committed to the success of every child in our system, and the focus of our budget has been to manage a new and evolving funding model to address this reality. Therefore, we will continue to keep the lines of communication open as we work together with you as a faith and learning community to manage scarce resources for the betterment of our students.   

Should you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us.

Thank you, once again, for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Joe Becigneul, chair
Board of Trustees


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Posted: June 5, 2020