Trustees to Make RAM Funding Decision in the Dark

At its public board meeting tonight, Calgary Board of Education Trustees will vote to approve 2011-12 funding for its 213 schools.

This money allows principals to hire teachers and teacher’s aids, custodians and office staff in preparation for the school year that starts in September. About 70 per cent of the CBE’s over $1 billion budget is allocated to schools using this Resource Allocation Method, or RAM funding model.

Parents across the system have heard that the board is dealing with a $61.7 million shortfall in funding from the province.  While the CBE’s funding includes an overall increase to the per-pupil grant, other targeted grants have been cut.  On March 22, the CBE announced the planned reduction of 172 central office positions, including “learning leaders, psychologists, learning specialists and other employees.”

While these cuts have been reported in the media and presented as fact, the CBE’s proposed budget for next year has NOT been presented at a public meeting or debated by trustees in public.

Tonight, trustees will be asked to determine funding for schools without having any picture at all of the remaining 30 per cent of the budget.

Chair Pat Cochrane told a meeting of parents on April 6 that the board would do everything possible to ensure any cuts would be felt at head office and not at  schools.

How can trustees, or Calgarians, know this is the case when there is no budget to look at?

Last year, trustees approved a RAM allotment that they knew would result in the loss of 248 school-based positions. When the full budget was presented in June, it included significant increases to many downtown departments, including a 6.7 per cent increase to the Office of the Chief Superintendent.

This is an even more difficult budget year. That’s why it is doubly important for the CBE to be completely transparent.

At the same parent meeting, Chief Superintendent Naomi Johnson said that the cost of the new Education Centre was only 10 per cent of the deficit. She should have been completely upfront. The incremental increase in the budget for the complex is $6 million, but the total lease cost is $11.5 million. As well, there is $3 million from the capital budget that will pay for renovations to the historic Safran Centre building which will be home to the trustees, for a total of 14.5 million or 23.5 per cent of the deficit.

The CBE reports in its current budget that administration expenses are 3.6 per cent of the total budget.  However, if you total the percentages for departments that sound like they should be administration you get much more. Finance and Business Services (5.3 per cent), Human Resources (2.1) Office of the Chief Superintendent  (1.1) and Trustees (0.2) are 8.7 per cent of the operating budget.

The CBE should be clear about what “Administration” does, and doesn’t include. And if Finance and Business Services isn’t considered an administrative cost, why isn’t it?

Calgarians elect trustees to provide oversight to CBE administration. How can they fulfill that vital role when will make the single biggest decision that affects students, school funding, without having the complete budget picture?

It’s bad enough that the board’s lack of transparency means Calgarians are in the dark about spending by our public school board. The fact that our elected officials are blindly making decisions that dramatically affect our children is much, much worse.

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