By Cole Parkinson
With the 2020-21 school year heading towards the end, the Horizon School board of trustees have gotten their first look at the next budget.
The board was presented with a balanced 2021-2022 budget in the amount of $47,642,565 during their May 31 meeting.
A big question mark still looming for any school division in the province continues to be the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think a key thing to highlight is the question of where is the pandemic going to be by September? The provincial government’s plan for re-opening at this point is there will be no restrictions in place by some time in July — assuming a certain amount of vaccinations, 70 per cent, and a certain level of hospitalizations,” explained Phil Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations. “So, at this point, there has been no additional funding provided to deal with the pandemic. We have a couple of measures in here that may be pandemic related, but we haven’t built-in, as an example, any additional cleaning. Most of this year, we have been cleaning high touch surfaces to a cost of about $250,000. Our latest word from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is COVID-19 isn’t really spreading through high touch surfaces. So for example, next year we wouldn’t be planning on budgeting for those additional costs.”
Students have been back in classrooms for several weeks, and with the provincial government projecting an early July for a complete re-opening, Horizon is expecting back to normal programming come September.
“If the province provides us with more guidance as far as what re-entry looks like for next year, we may end up having to incur some additional costs that we may need to make some revisions. But, at this point, the underlying assumption, for the most part, is things are going back to normal,” added Johansen.
With that transition of at-home learning in the spring and fall of 2020, Horizon is also exploring continuing some form of at-home learning. Due to no guarantees all families will be comfortable entering back into schools full-time, administration has moved ahead with a plan to continue to allow students to access at-home learning programming.
“Something we did this year is — we had three teachers running at-home learning, or home-based, computer-based learning. We’ve decided to try and continue that for next year. Again, where is the pandemic going to be at and is that even going to be a new normal where we feel the need to offer that type of learning to reach more children in the area?” asked Johansen. “The reality is we may still have some lingering effects. Because the government says it’s safe to come back to school, does that mean everybody feels safe coming back to school? Do we have that need for the at-home learning still?”
Another update has come in the form of absentee costs, which is projected to be quite lower than the previous budget.
“Last year, we made a pretty big assumption about increased absentee costs for this year. And assuming a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, I’m not sure I see a need for as large of a cushion for absentee costs. It is a little higher than what we’ve historically budgeted, about $100,000 higher, but not $250,000 higher,” said Johansen.
He also touched on insurance costs for the division.
While costs have been rising over the past several years, Johansen stated he expected them to plateau for the coming year.
“Another key assumption is we are paying historic insurance rates and the assumption is those insurance rates aren’t going to take another 100 per cent jump again. I’ve budgeted for insurance costs to be consistent with what we’ve paid in the last couple of years.”
Looking at the numbers, Johansen explained how enrolment affects the dollars that come in from the government. But with the provincial government committing to maintaining funding for each division in the next year, administration explained a wrinkle with some of the funding.
“Enrolment is always a risk, and in a pandemic environment, I think that continues to be a risk. Yes, the province has stepped up and committed to providing funding to each jurisdiction that would equal this current year, but as we go through the funding model, there becomes a requirement that if we don’t have as many kids as we projected — there is a requirement that we set some of that money aside for future years,” explained Johansen, who also stated it would be just over $1 million.
This year’s enrolment ending in 2021 from Early Childhood Services (ECS) to Grade 12 based on full-time equivalent was 3,102.5 while 2022 is projected at 3,130.5. Revenues for the 2021-22 budget comes from the Government of Alberta projected at $45,532,854, fees at $813,341, sales and services and products $593,870, investment income $89,303, gifts and donations $289,957, rental of facilities $13,240, fundraising $310,000 for a total of $47,642,565.
“Ninety-six per cent of our funding comes from the government, the vast majority of it being from Alberta Education. A little less than $2 million of that would be referenced to Alberta Infrastructure for capital allocation of the buildings we have. The real thing it highlights is the funding model change has benefited our division,” added Johansen.
With revenues up the last two years, Johansen explained how it has benefited the division after years of deficits.
“With that increased revenue, one thing people are asking is ‘where does the extra money go?’ Don’t forget, a lot of that extra money, under the old funding model we were running million-dollar deficits for multiple years in a row. So, we’ve been able to maintain programs and enhance a couple of strategic programs. So a balanced budget with revenues and expenses this year.”
From the expense side, instruction (Pre Kindergarten) $554,151, instruction (K-12) $35,065,352, operations and maintenance $6,613,812, transportation $2,938,254, system administration $1,962,606, external services $508,390 for a total of $47,642,565.
“You can see that instruction K-12 is three-quarters of our budget basically, and that’s not unexpected,” added Johansen.
With a balanced budget, trustees were happy to finally be back in the red.
“In 2019, with what we budgeted that year, we would have never expected, at least I wouldn’t have, expected a balanced budget two years later. We were looking at the opposite,” said Bruce Francis, vice-chair.
“It’s been nice to think about ways to support students rather than what’s the minimum damage we can do to try to get things on track. It’s been a nice shift,” replied Johansen.