Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools funding loss approaches $5M

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools is facing a much bigger budget reduction this year than they had originally expected.

Last spring, the division had been anticipating a cut of about $2 million to its overall $114 million budget.

However, upon further review the actual loss is closer to $4.75 million.

“We have worked hard to ensure that our budget decisions have the least impact on students and the classroom as possible,” says board chair Anne Marie Watson.

Most of the loss will be covered by reserves, she says, but doing so will leave those reserves in the weakest position they’ve been during her nine-year tenure as a trustee. She adds that it won’t lead to any teachers to being let go.

Watson says learning that the funding loss was this large was surprising and disappointing, but she doesn’t put the blame squarely on Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

“The reality is in government that the minister is responsible for the portfolio, but then that minister sits at a cabinet table and it’s the entire cabinet that weighs in on these decisions. Then it’s the treasury board that really owns the decision,” she says. “I would expect behind those closed doors that our minister is making a solid case for the funding required by her department.”

The shortfall is due to the elimination of three funding envelopes – the Classroom Improvement Fund, the Class Size Initiative and the School Fees Grant.

In a move Watson says was the right thing to do, the board voted to suspend its renumeration policy for the 2019/20 school year, meaning trustees won’t see an increase to their annual honoraria or per diem, which is typically adjusted based on the Alberta Consumer Price Index.

“At our August meeting, that item comes before the board as a reminder that it’s happening automatically (in September), and at that time we were a little uneasy about what might come in the October budget, so we pressed pause at that time until November when we would know our budget,” Watson explains.

“After we had that budget update, even though it’s a small amount, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for us as leaders to accept an increase when we’re faced with such large cuts to our budget.”

Currently, the chair receives $19,834 annually, the vice-chair receives $16,748, and the other trustees $15,475.