October 22nd, 2020

Lethbridge School Division to use reserves to avoid layoffs


By Mabell, Dave on November 28, 2019.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

dmabell@lethbridgeherald.com

The provincial government’s budget cuts meant a $6.5-million hit for the Lethbridge School Board this fall.

For the current year, school trustees have decided to dip into accumulated reserves to avoid layoffs.

“We were surprised by both the amount of the funding shortfall and the mid-year timing of the reduction in funds,” says board chair Clark Bosch, in a news release..

But trustees and administrators “have closed the funding gap for the current school year with minimal reductions in our services to our students and no job losses,” he says

The board has taken $800,000 out of its budget as a result of salary and staffing contingency savings, he says. It’s also taking $2.1 million out of several operating reserves.

Budget adjustments became essential after the United Conservatives’ first provincial budget was tabled on Oct. 24.

While the budget included base funding for the number of students enrolled in the city’s public schools, officials say, it eliminated other grants including the Classroom Improvement Fund, class size funding for kindergarten to Grade 3 classes, Career Technology studies in Grade 10 to 12 and previous school and transportation fee reduction grants.

That amounted to a $6.54-million reduction in the board’s funding, officials explain, although they had anticipated the loss of the $1.3 million Classroom Improvement Fund grant.

Like other boards across Alberta, however, Lethbridge did not expect the removal of the class size funding or the fee reduction grants – totalling $5.2 million.

However a one-time transition grant of $2.2 million was provided by the province to provide some relief for the grants that were removed.

“Unfortunately, our ability to cover funding shortfalls in this manner is not a long-term solution and continued cuts will leave us in a position where our current level of support for our students will suffer,” Bosch warns

“We have one of the best education systems in the world and, of course, it costs money.

“It is our hope that our government understands that funding less means less services for all of our students, and they deserve better.”

Officials say Lethbridge Public has been strategic over the past number of years and “with sound fiscal responsibility” it’s been able to retain operating reserves to assist in difficult fiscal times.

Now it will be taking $1.1 million from instructional-based reserves, $650,000 from support-based reserves and $375,000 from the division’s unrestricted reserve. Administrators will continue working over coming months to examine the implications of cuts to Alberta’s education grants as they develop a budget for the 2020-21 school year.

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