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Horizon in budget holding pattern

Posted on May 2, 2019 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cole Parkinson
Vauxhall Advance

With the United Conservative Party taking the reins of the provincial government, Horizon School Division is anticipating some changes in regard to funding for their next budget.

While no provincial budget has been put forward, Horizon has been hard at work putting together the upcoming year’s financials, but they don’t have all the information typically needed to put it together.

“It is budget season and we don’t have a budget from the province. It may be the most unclear budget season we have ever had,” said Phil Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations at the board’s regular meeting on April 18. “We’ve tried to move forward with some parts and pieces. We’ve moved forward on some assumptions that at least funding rates may stay the same. That leaves questions about some off grants that were in the funding we received over the last couple years. Last year, as an example, we received a Classroom Improvement Fund.” 

Last year’s Classroom Improvement Fund helped divisions with staffing and with that funding in the air, school divisions around the region aren’t entirely optimistic it will return in 2019.

“One hundred per cent of that was going to staffing, but those staff are all on temp contracts. Because that is a one-time grant every year, all of those staff are on temporary contracts that end June 30,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “Anita (Richardson, associate superintendent of programs and human services) has been in touch with a number of school divisions around the south and many are putting staffing on hold until June. Normally, this is a busy time for hiring.”

Tymensen said the division realizes hiring of staff may very well flow into the summer months.

On top of the Classroom Improvement Fund, other financial programs have also not been guaranteed to make a return.

“It is hard to say whether or not that funding will be back. Another thing that was new last year was the Nutrition Program funding. Again, no notion as to whether that will continue,” said Johansen.

In regard to their own budget, work has been ongoing since the deadline for school division budgets was extended to the end of June.

With no word on when the provincial budget will be released, work gets considerably harder for Horizon.

“The budget deadline itself was extended by Minister Eggen to June 30 before the election was called. However, without a budget from the government itself, I’m not sure what is going to happen with that. I’ve reached out to Alberta Education and they reminded me of the last time we had an election, they didn’t have their budget out until the end of the summer,” added Johansen.

In 2015, things were a little easier for Horizon, but they understand those same options won’t be available to them this time around.

“We actually built it. We had a preliminary budget and we were prepared to basically carry it if need be to the fall when it was updated,” said Tymensen.

Other outside factors will also affect the coming Horizon budget.

“Another thing that is concerning in this budget is the government settled with the ATA (Alberta Teachers’ Association) provincially. We estimate the cost of the settlement will cost the division between $350,000 and $400,000 a year and of course we have no commitment one way or another from the government whether or not that will be funded,” said Johansen. “Lots of things up in the air, we’ve just been trying to put things in place to help us figure it out.”

With all this to account for, the board was in favour of tightening up financially for the upcoming budget.

“I would suggest it since we need to be very frugal in that budget. Anticipating that if it comes down a lot less than what we think it is, we aren’t totally out in left field. If it comes out more favourable, great,” said vice-chair Bruce Francis.

All factors considered, Horizon staff are already headed down that road in regard to the new budget.

“We shared with the board earlier that enrollment numbers are down as well and that has an impact as well. We have given allocation time to schools and the vast majority of schools will have less teachers next year than they have this year. They have been made aware of that and teachers have been made aware of that,” said Tymensen.

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