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Saturday , 23 October 2021

NLPS will balance $2.5 million budget deficit with reserves and cutting spending

Northern Lights Public Schools will pull money from reserves and cut spending to cover the $2.5 million deficit in the 2019-20 budget, the board said in a press release on Thursday.

The majority of the shortfall will be offset by using school board reserves of $1,350,000 and it expected that the impact on students will be minimal.

The Board has also taken the following steps:

  • Cut its own budget and reduced its spending by 6% compared to 2018-2019;
  • Identified efficiencies and reduced spending at the division level by nearly $700,000;
  • Asked schools with reserves to contribute 20% of those reserves towards the shortfall; and
  • Reduced funding to each school by $8 per student for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Our goal was to balance the budget without drastically affecting the services offered to students in our classrooms or passing costs on to parents without adequate time for consultation,” said Board Chair Arlene Hrynyk in the release.

“We are confident with the plan that has been developed that the direct impact on students will be minimal this year and we are committed to consulting with stakeholders when appropriate as we look at changes that may need to occur going forward.”

The $2.56 million shortfall is the result of three factors:

  • a $1.5 million increase in the division’s insurance premiums (a 274% increase in property insurance premiums and a 38% increase on liability and other premiums);
  • a $700,000 reduction in funding from the provincial government (the difference between what the division was receiving through the class size initiative grant last year and what it will receive this year through a one-time funding to offset the loss of that grant, and an enrollment-related transportation grant reduction); and,
  • additional expenses identified since the initial 2019-2020 budget was approved by the Board in the spring. Some of these additional expenses are related to initiatives that will save the division money on a long-term basis, but require an initial investment in this school year.

“It is important to us that our students don’t experience any mid-year disruptions in their classrooms as a result of the financial situation we are dealing with,” explained Hrynyk.

“We know our students, parents, and staff are experiencing a lot of anxiety due to stories they may have read or rumours they may have heard, and we want to reassure everyone that we are doing our best to ensure we maintain services to our students while operating in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The Board said they are looking forward to the results of the provincial funding framework review that is currently underway and will determine how much funding boards will receive from the government starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

Once that has been announced, the Board will begin developing its budget for next year.

“We are hopeful that the funding framework review will provide equitable and predictable funding for boards across the province and, in particular, address some of the circumstances that are unique to rural boards,” explained Hrynyk.

In the meantime, the Board is taking several steps to prepare for a potential budget shortfall next year.

This includes continuing to work with the provincial government and school boards across the province on potential solutions to address the increase in insurance premiums all boards are dealing with.

After discussing the issue with local MLA’s David Hanson and Laila Goodridge at their December 13th board meeting, the Board is optimistic that with some time to work on the issue, there will be options identified that could reduce the impact.

The Board and administration will also continue to look for efficiencies and opportunities to reduce costs in the system while minimizing the impact on students in the classroom.

“It is important to us that if any changes need to be made for the 2020-2021 school year, that, whenever possible, we give our stakeholders opportunities to provide us with input so that we can make decisions that best reflect the needs of our students and our communities,” said Hrynyk.

“We encourage all of our students, parents and community partners to take advantage of the opportunities provided to them through our stakeholder consultations, and to work with us to identify options and find solutions that will enable us to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our students.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.