The Cost of Public Education

The kids have been back at school for two weeks and are settling into classes with new teachers, new expectations, and, perhaps, fewer classmates. Students in some schools in St Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD), may have noticed smaller classes, as the division has seen a decrease of 99 students in its overall enrollment, now standing at 3 893. While Superintendent Glen Brodziak assures, “Always our number one priority is small class size” for the benefit of the students, SPERD faces the reality that reduced enrollment equals reduced revenue, which may impact staffing and programs.

The drop in the number of students in SPERD results in an estimated $772,560 less revenue.  Jean Champagne, SPERD’s secretary-treasurer takes this figure a step further. “The spring budget was already projecting an $800,264 deficit and a few other grants have come in less than projected, so this is cause for concern.  Clearly adjustments will be required at some point and the question really is to what extent and when?”  Brodziak acknowledges that the division reduced some staffing by not replacing one teacher and two educational assistants, but making further changes once the year has started is not desirable. “Cutting back at this time of year is a last, last, last resort, but there are limits to the budget,” he explains.

Other funding concerns have arisen as a result of Alberta government’s implementation of An Act to Reduce School Fees, which promised that public education would be provided at minimal cost to parents. The intent of the act is to ensure that all students have access to an affordable, quality education.  For school divisions, however, the act has created some uncertainty regarding how to recover the lost revenue and how to reduce costs.

In SPERD, the fees eliminated were grade specific registration fees of $31 for kindergarten to grade 6 students, $46 for junior high students, and $72 for high school students, as well as, what Champagne, calls, “A little on the transportation side.” Fees for textbooks, workbooks, photocopying, printing, and paper have also been eliminated.  As for making up the shortfall, Champagne explains, “The Province provided a one-time grant to help offset the loss in basic fee revenue.  For SPERD, the amount provided will essentially hold us harmless in this regard for 2017-18.   In all, we expect to receive about $179,000 under this grant.” Champagne notes that the grant is guaranteed for only one year, and amounts given to school divisions vary widely across the province.

 

Champagne continues, “The biggest impact on schools is the new approval process.  If you are planning a field trip, you need to have the fee approved in advance by the Province.  This is not always easy as fees are based on entry costs and transportation and these are typically variable based on the number of participants.  Likewise for extra-curricular where the fees are variable based on tournaments attended, the success of the team (provincials), fundraising etc.  This is maybe an example of where the theory is good, but the practical application is a little cumbersome.

“So as far as impact on schools, at this time we don’t expect their finances to be affected and it is more around added administration for tracking and reporting and also the reduced flexibility to not be able to do an emergent field trip as the approval deadline was missed. (The class could still do the trip, but could not charge a fee.)” Parents should expect that fees will still apply to field trips and to projects that students choose to do beyond the course syllabus, especially in CTS programs such as construction or fashion studies.