STAR Catholic Schools to lose $2.1 million as a result of provincial budget

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St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic School Division says they will have a net loss of $2.1 million in funding following the release of the UCP provincial government’s austerity budget Oct. 24.

As per a release issued Friday evening, following their November 20 meeting, the STAR Catholic Board plans to recover $1.1 million through finding administrative efficiencies, central office supports and funding reserves at the school level. The board made the decision to recover the remaining $1 million by allocating $1 million of its $1.1 million contingency reserves – a move Board Chair Michelle Lamer says is only a short-term solution.

“The board did not wish to lessen the shortfall by raising school fees or reducing staff, especially at this point in the school year,” said Lamer. “Unfortunately, utilizing our reserve funds in such a significant way will not be possible after this year and we will be forced to consider other options.”

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STAR Catholic says much of the loss in provincial funding comes from the elimination of grants, including those used to reduce class size. The Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF), a temporary fund, and the School Fee Reduction Funding and Class Size Initiative were removed.

The province’s justification for the elimination of class size reduction funding comes from a report released Oct. 18 that says such funding has been largely ineffective, with class sizes in kindergarten to Grade 3 seeing an average reduction of 1.4 students per class since 2003-04, while $3.4 billion has been invested into the program, starting at $90 million in 2004-05. That number bloomed to $291 million by 2018-19.

Still, the division, which serves 12 schools and 4,000 students through central Alberta, including in Lacombe, says the cutting of such programs equates to a loss of $510 per student, compounded by “unrelated external factors” such as the 174 per cent increase in school insurance fees.

While the board’s decisions will maintain staffing levels and reduce costs at central office for the time being, with more cuts on the horizon – including a further $51 million reduction in transportation by 2022-23 and $2 million cut to program support services over the same time frame – Lamer says they won’t be able to make the same decisions in the future, and will have to search for other ways to maximize efficiencies through the evaluation of expenditures and advocating for “the needs and well-being” of students.

“This is certainly a distressing position to be in, and we understand divisions across the province are feeling similar effects,” she said. “The board of trustees has no doubt about the amount of work to be done and the difficult decisions to be made. As always, we will make those decisions with the best interests of our students, staff and their families in mind.”