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Wild Rose School Division Urges Government to Address Chronic Underfunding in Schools

March 21

Wild Rose School Division believes investing in education means investing in Alberta’s economy and future.

March 19, 2019, Rocky Mountain House, AB — Locally-elected school boards in Alberta are made up of individuals who care deeply for the future of our next generation. Because of this, Wild Rose School Division is imploring government to address the chronic underfunding of our schools. Albertans want a strong and diversified economy. There is no better way to guarantee our future than by investing in education. Wild Rose School Division believes every student deserves the best opportunities to learn, no matter how complex their needs, no matter what part of the province they’re from. Even in times of fiscal restraint, education is not the place to cut—it’s the place to invest, because our students deserve to have the resources needed to equip them for a diversified economy.

“The current funding model that is based heavily on student enrollment does not make sense in rural school divisions that are experiencing declining enrollments. It should be replaced with a ‘needs-based’ funding model that provides greater equity in education across the province.” - Russ Hickman, Board Chair, Wild Rose School Division

Below are examples of how the current funding model negatively impacts rural school divisions with declining enrollments:

  • Plant Operations & Maintenance: The size of our school buildings has remained the same while our Plant Operations and Maintenance funding from government has decreased due to declining enrollments. Furthermore, our expenses to operate and maintain our school buildings have been increasing year over year due to inflation and taxes. In 2017-18 this resulted in a $400,000 deficit in the Wild Rose School Division Plant Operations and Maintenance budget. This is a common problem across Alberta in that 74% of Alberta school boards are reporting a Plant Operations and Maintenance deficit.
  • Transportation:  Although we have fewer students to transport than we did three years ago, our students are still scattered over the same large rural area. Ride times are already extremely long for many of our students. Yet our Transportation funding from government has been reduced due to declining enrollments. In 2017-18 this resulted in a Transportation deficit of $248,000 for Wild Rose School Division.
  • Inclusion: Wild Rose School Division desperately wants to provide the inclusive
    education our students deserve, but with inadequate funding, we are straining to provide timely intervention, assessments and support for our students with complex needs and mental health concerns. In fact, in 2017-18 Wild Rose School Division supplemented the inclusive education grant we received by $2,000,000 in order to offer basic inclusive education services to our students. We are one of 42 school boards (out of 61 in the province) reporting an inclusive education deficit. Alberta’s current funding model does not address inflation, nor does it address the ever growing diverse needs of today’s complex school and student systems.
  • Programming: The Alberta Commission on Learning recommends average class sizes in high school grades to be 27 students. This is impossible to achieve in many of our small rural high schools. In fact, in some of our smallest high schools, we may have only a handful of students interested in taking some of the 30 level courses. The current funding model makes it impossible to put a teacher in front of so few students. This has forced our small high schools to become creative by cycling some courses (offering them only every other year), or by offering 2 or 3 different courses in the same class at the same time with one teacher, or by offering courses via self directed online learning modules. Breadth of programming beyond the core curriculum is also a challenge in small rural high schools. Is this equitable programming compared to larger high schools that have greater economies of scale?
  • Staffing: Staffing is the largest expense for all school divisions. The underlying assumption of the current funding model is that the amount of funding given to a school division is directly proportional to the number of students in the division. This is not an accurate assumption. For example, when our enrollment declines by 100 students, our basic instructional grant is reduced by more than $650,000. However, in Wild Rose School Division, if these 100 students are evenly spread across our 18 schools (spread across 150 kilometers), it is almost impossible to reduce our staffing by that amount of money. Even though several classrooms across the division may have a two or three less students each, in most cases each of these classrooms still require a full time teacher.
  • Travel Time & Expenses: In the education of students, it is important that our staff have opportunities to grow and learn. Unfortunately, professional development is much more expensive in rural school divisions due to our distance from the larger centers where professional development is typically offered. Our division office staff also spend large amounts of time and expense driving to schools that are spread across hundreds of kilometers in order to provide supports.

What government can do to to resolve these issues:

  • Wild Rose School Division asks that government complete a comprehensive funding formula review, in partnership with school boards, recognizing the unique challenges of providing high quality education services in rural Alberta.
  • Wild Rose School Division asks that government provide integrated services from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Children’s Services, Ministry of Community and Social Services and Alberta Health Services.

Wild Rose School Division welcomes discussions with MLAs and other political parties of Alberta on ways to improve funding issues.

For more information about Wild Rose School Division, visit https://www.wrsd.ca/.

Media Inquiries

Russ Hickman, Board Chair: 780-542-7946

Brad Volkman, Superintendent of Schools: 403-845-3376

Leave a comment:

James Kelly said on March 22, 2019

Now that schools are in the business of education, not educating or schooling. How about we reduce the size of the division office, look at possibly contracting some maintenance, reduce the number of school boards and superintendents. Invest every dollar you can in class rooms instead of offices. Our students and children deserve a better quality education. Better facilities and better more modern tools to excel. Our Teachers deserve more support, and not to have to f to personally pay for things in the classroom. Like all businesses, the end users need to receive the reward for their loyalty and investment.Not old facilities and text books; or classes that have multiple grades being taught by a singular teacher.

If you want to create positive influences that are memorable and rewarding start by ensuring that the students are the beneficiaries of the maximum amount of your existing budget. Stop over funding the non classroom part of your division and start making a list of creative ideas and processes that benefit students.

Be the creative, wise and flexible leaders that you expect your students and teachers to be. For in the mean time all i see is politicking based on the release timing of this request. Improvise. Part of this school years shortage was caused by spending overages of over a million dollars on the previous school year. Please be the leaders and improvisers who outline solutions not just challenges.

Brad Volkman said on April 1, 2019

The WRSD board of trustees and administration agree that we need to continue looking for efficiencies. Over the past 4 years we have reduced division office staff by 9.8 positions. Although we have always hired some contracting of maintenance projects in the past, we have increased this significantly in the 2018-19 school year. The board has made great efforts to secure funding for new or modernized schools. We are currently in the midst of replacing an old elementary school in Drayton Valley with a new school building. Construction has begun and is scheduled to be completed by January 2021. We have also made an excellent case to secure government funding for a new high school in Lelslieville and a modernized school in Condor, while closing David Thompson High School. We are waiting to hear back from government on this capital plan request that will increase our utilization rates while at the same time provide new and modern schools to our students in the corridor. Our 2017-18 deficit was $550,365 and was the result of an enrollment decline that was much greater than anticipated. As a result we based our 2018-19 budget on much more conservative enrollment estimates. To date, our 2018-19 expenditures are on pace to break even with our 2018-19 revenues. Moving forward, we will continue to look for further efficiencies, reductions in spending and other sources of revenue while at the same time, work with government to better understand how the current provincial funding allocation model is not working for rural school divisions across Alberta. And what better time to have this discussion than during a provincial election.

james kelly said on April 2, 2019

Thank you Mr.. Volkman for your reply. I still challenge that your school division is not meeting on a daily basis the needs of the classroom. When better to have a discussion? While I would suggest every day and not just during an election. I see a laundry list of challenges facing students and teachers that your response or the Divisions original post do not openly discuss.
You are replacing a school in Drayton Valley that is fine, except the school was a known challenge that had been over looked for years. How long before HW Pickup is in the same position?

The point of my first post was that the students and teachers are being asked to meet challenges on a daily basis in a manner that is creative.Also to improvise. Your school division needs to meet or exceed that challenge, you are the leaders and stewards of change.

I believe that you and your office are more than capable of being as dynamic, creative and just as strong of improvisers as the students and teachers have proven to be. I respectfully challenge you, your division office and trustees to meet the ever increasing educational needs of the students.

Finally I would ask when does action begin and discussion take a secondary position?

I am sorry I overstated the overspending of five hundred and fifty thousand dollars as a million dollars. Still a large amount of money withdrawn from an already shrinking budget.

Thank you again for the response.