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Horizon looking at sizeable deficit

Posted on July 6, 2016 by Taber Times

By Greg Price
Taber Times

Horizon School Division has had to dip into its operating reserves to the tune of $2.8 million, to balance its $46 million-dollar budget it passed at its board of trustees meeting last Tuesday for the 2016-2017 school year, as school divisions across the province continue to deal with the economic downturn.

The $2.8 million is composed of an operating cash deficit of $1.2 million.

“That $1.2 million is pretty significant. We have quite often approved a budget of $600,000, $700,000 (operating deficit) at the beginning of the year. But as far as I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve ever approved $1.2 million,” said Bruce Francis, board vice-chair of Horizon School Division who would go on to make the eventual motion to approve the budget, with a note that the board has the eventual goal where the budget is balanced and it will not be an ongoing trend to continually draw from reserves.

There is also $480,000 unsupported amortization, $680,000 in infrastructure enhancements from board reserves and $475,000 from school reserves.

“This year we are projecting a decline in enrollments,” said Phil Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations at the board of trustees meeting on June 21, in anticipation of the 2016-2017 school year. “That will cause a reduction in our overall revenues.”

Johansen noted changes from this past school year is Horizon has added 2.5 teachers combined with a declining enrollment and the school division waiving its school fees.

“The province has talked the last couple of years, specifically last year about this notion of parents paying for school fees. Certainly the NDP government has communicated that their plan was to reduce or eliminate school fees. It was a strong indication to boards across the province they should be reducing those fees,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of Horizon School Division. “Instead of relying on parents for funding, the province would step up and provide that funding. No one was expecting the economic situation in the province, so the government has indicated they are delaying that plan for two years.”

Estimations are of a loss of $350,000 in funding due to a reduction in student enrollment and another $120,000 in waiving basic school fees (not including option classes for middle and high school) for families.

“In addition to this, the board has approved a one-year position to support schools in rolling out the new curriculum and assessments,” said Johansen during discussion period before the budget was passed. “We are proposing to the board to dip into their reserves for next year in light of the reduced projected enrollments so that we can maintain staffing numbers and pick up some of these specially targeted items.”

Among highlights of the budget that Marie Logan, board chairperson of Horizon School Division outlined in a press release after the budget was passed were eliminating basic school fees, increasing teacher allocations by $250,000 despite a projected reduction in enrollment, $680,000 worth of building and technology enhancements, increasing centralized assistant support by $160,000 and providing mentorship support related to technology and assessment of best practices through a seconded position.

“The Board recognizes the importance of front-line teachers in the classroom, and remains committed to supporting small rural schools and high-quality learning environments for all students, as well as ensuring stable and predictable funding in the classroom while targeting the province’s key priorities in inclusion, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit student success, and high school completion,” said Logan in the press release. “The Board recognizes the limitations and implications of repeatedly drawing upon reserves, particularly if the economy does not recover quickly and oil continues to slump. As such, the Board has directed senior administration to do a comprehensive review of the budgetary allocation process to ensure the adequate funding is being targeted towards key priorities and that school allocations provide equal opportunities, programs and services for students.”

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