The Calgary Board of Education has posted a short online survey asking stakeholders how they would like to see the CBE allocate any additional unrestricted funds. The word “unrestricted” is key, as $6.9 million was cut from the CBE’s grant for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), and if that is returned as a grant, it must be allocated to AISI programs and staff.
ARTICS is very pleased that the CBE is being proactive in soliciting public input and we expect that the full results of the survey will be published before any funding decisions are made as was promised in today’s Calgary Herald article.
That being said, we do have concerns that there is not enough information provided for stakeholders to give an informed opinion. Few people realize that the CBE budgeted $19.3 million in “reserves” for the 2011-2012 school year. This means that the CBE is going into the next budgeting cycle with no reserves, and the services paid for with that $19.3 million this year will have to be cut next year unless the province provides new funding. The CBE estimated a budget shortfall of $33.9 million in 2012-2013 and $85.3 million in 2013-2014 on page 6-4 of the June 14 budget report to the trustees.
The survey does not provide any context and it doesn’t explain the consequences of choosing certain items over others.
- If all of the additional funding is spent on contracting teachers or support staff, will there be funds to keep these positions next year?
- What are current class sizes? We hear stories of unacceptably large class sizes, but are these the norm or the exceptions? How many additional teachers are needed?
- How was the extra funding provided to the CBE for special needs students over the summer allocated?
- Why is “new schools” the first item on the list? Alberta Education determines when and where to build new schools. The money comes from infrastructure funds, which are completely separate from operating funds. The CBE has absolutely no control over school construction. (Perhaps if everyone identified this as their top priority then the CBE could give the additional money back to the province and ask for a new elementary school instead?)
- If a majority wanted school fees reduced, would the CBE hand out cheques to everyone? Or, would a credit be applied in the following year?
- Items that only affect a minority of students, such as improved ESL supports may not have a lot of support on the survey, but does this mean that it shouldn’t be considered?
The CBE did a Spring online budget survey (where stakeholders indicated that class sizes and no increase in fees were their top priorities). Obviously, the CBE is sometimes unable or unwilling to fulfill the wishes of the respondents. Will this survey be any different? We are glad that the CBE has taken this first step, but we hope it is just that. This shouldn’t be the only form of public input solicited. We hope that future endeavors will provide more context and a better explanation of the choices faced by administration.
We’d also like to see trustees take a leadership role in seeking public input and openly and honestly debating where these funds should go in public meetings. We also encourage the board to provide a more detailed budget breakdown so all stakeholders can have a good understanding of how the CBE is choosing the spend its money.