Board discusses impacts of budget cuts

Our board had an eventful meeting tonight with important budget implications:

Fall Revised Budget

Edmonton Public Schools is in the unprecedented position of having a fall revised budget tabled with significant funding reductions.  We saw a mid-year unexpected budget shortfall of $34 million from our spring budget.  And this report also detailed that our 2019 revenue from the province saw a cut to funding of $23 million dollars compared to 2018.  This means we have $23 million less than last year and over 3,000 students more than last year.

In discussion, we heard that over 80% of our district costs are salaries, with the other 20% being building, supply and transportation costs.  This means that it is impossible to just find efficiencies when considering the state of funding for our district for the next four years.  This is because the province has signalled that it will keep funding for education at 2018 levels for the next four years, even though there will be an additional 60,000 students entering the K-12 education system during this time.

With funding cuts, and without funding growth to match our growing number of students, it means a radical re-shaping of education in Edmonton Public Schools.  We will need to work together with our staff, families and communities to make these decisions going forward.

Approval of spending reserves

In order to make up the shortfall in dollars we are seeing this year, Edmonton Public School Board Trustees approved spending $56 million in reserves to avoid having to re-open school budgets and prevent staff layoffs.  In approving this spend, we will have depleted our reserves by the end of the year.  Trustees discussed with our administration the choices needed to accommodate this spending and heard information about the impact on our ability to meet emerging student needs through our equity fund.  We also heard about how future funding decisions will be impacted by the depletion in our reserves, as we will now have very little flexibility to meet emerging needs.

Our board also heard about the money added back to surplus that had previously been designated to inclusive learning for external assessments and other needs.  We learned that some of these assessments will now be completed in partnership with AHS.  Our board also heard that the inclusive learning funding we receive from the province does not match our needs, as we are putting $20 million more every year into inclusive learning than we receive from the province – and this funding is based on a formula, not tied to individual student coding.

We also heard plans from our Superintendent to prepare scenarios with 8% and 10% reductions in funding for our board to contemplate, as many factors related to next year’s budget remain uncertain.  These scenarios would mean significant changes to education in our school district.

Board Chair Communications

Our Board Chair discussed our Board’s work with other Metro school boards in Edmonton and Calgary advocating for the needs of students in large cities in our province.  She also discussed our board’s response to the upcoming Choice in Education act – the position that we need more support for public education.  Our chair also signalled that our board is looking at ways to save costs and will propose to the province that we re-use a currently existing design from our last high school build to save design costs on our desperately needed high school in the south east – in the hope that we can see this school built sooner.

Board speakers

We heard from board speakers on trustee advocacy and messaging of the tone and tempo to match the threat to public education, and on increasing reporting and work to prevent and eliminate the use of seclusion rooms with students.

Professional development

The board also debated funding to support professional development of staff and voted to maintain funding this year, even though our staff numbers have increased with our growing enrolment. We discussed the importance of increasing staff capacity, particularly when we are seeing reductions in budgets as this limits our ability to fund outside supports.

Audited financial statements

We discussed the audited financial statements for 2018-2019.  Our external auditors offered a clean audit opinion on the financial statements.

If you are interested in learning more, please attend my Town Hall on Thursday night!

As always, you can watch our board meetings online: