The road to a budget that balances fiscal responsibility with a commitment to the classroom begins with the initial step of simply setting a direction.
Wolf Creek Public Schools’ Board of Trustees began that planning by setting our budget priorities in March, which guide forthcoming budget deliberations. Through discussion and careful consideration at the board table, the priorities are: To ensure the well-being of the students and staff; achieve a balanced budget but yet ensure a balanced approach; ensure the board’s Three Year Education Plan remains at the forefront; to seek balanced emphasis on professional development, while ensuring district expertise is leveraged; and that support to students is maintained at the highest level the budget can accommodate.
These priorities will guide and focus us as a board, as budget deliberations begin in April, and a multitude of factors are looked at through this lens. Those factors include the collaboration and input sought by many sources, from school administrators to department leaders, survey data to our recent Thought exchange with school communities, and open conversations with parents, staff, students and community members. These sources bring valuable insight and perspective for the board to consider when examining and finalizing the budget.
As WCPS oversees a $90 million budget, these are important conversations and there is much that goes in to that bottom line. Of the budget, 80 per cent supports salaries and benefits, and we know that the staff of WCPS are our greatest asset. Part of the support for our schools comes from the District Office, located in Ponoka. Staff there support learning in classrooms through a variety of crucial roles, but at the same time WCPS’ budget for the district office cannot exceed 3.6 per cent of the total district budget. In the 2017/18 budget, for example, our jurisdiction was $126,086 under the required maximum in this regard.
Arriving at a finalized budget has its challenges. Education funding from the Government of Alberta is tied directly to student enrolment, and makes up 93 per cent of the funding the school division receives. That means projecting enrolment is important when drafting the budget, but how close those projections are to reality impacts actual funding from the province, when final numbers are set in October.
It’s not an easy task, and we know that a provincial election is also on the horizon, but through this process, from the conversations to be had to the execution of a final budget, the board truly remains committed to our priorities and to the students, staff and families throughout our communities.
Pamela Hansen is Board Chair of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS). WCPS Board of Trustees consists of six trustees representing the communities and rural areas of Alix, Bentley, Blackfalds, Bluffton, Clive, Eckville, Lacombe, Ponoka, and Rimbey. Serving approximately 7,300 students, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, WCPS employs approximately 412 teachers and 350 support staff in 30 schools, including five colony schools, throughout the Division.