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Budget cuts hit local school boards

Last month's provincial budget featured cuts to the Ministry of Education local school boards are not too pleased with. Lakeland Catholic School District's (LCSD) funding has been reduced by about $550,000 or 2.
Local school board believes the government should fund playgrounds for schools.
Local school board believes the government should fund playgrounds for schools.

Last month's provincial budget featured cuts to the Ministry of Education local school boards are not too pleased with.

Lakeland Catholic School District's (LCSD) funding has been reduced by about $550,000 or 2.6 per cent due to the budget, said LCSD board chair Gerald Corbiere.

“Now we will have to go back and revisit that budget to find another half a million dollars somewhere.”

He was pleased the 4.4 per cent grant for certified teachers' salary increases was honoured.

“But the bad news is that other grants in other areas have been cut.”

The province cut the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) grant in half. Corbiere said this was the most significant cut and explained how the grant encourages innovation in the classroom to improve student learning.

“We will be looking at all areas and seeing if there's some areas that we can improve with the lower funding so that we can minimize the cuts to the staff and more importantly, the services to the children.”

The AISI cuts will also affect the Northern Lights School Division(NLSD), said associate superintendent of business and financial affairs Beverley Topylki.

“The AISI (cut) is sad because schools have worked hard to get those new programs going in place and now we're just going to slash the funding in half,” she said. “That more than likely means elimination of some of these extra programs that the kids around the province have had for three years.”

In NLSD, AISI funding covers fine arts, student leadership, the REAL-8 program and school improvement, which includes professional development.

Other grant cuts affecting the division include cutting in half the relative cost of purchasing adjustment, which assists with inflation. It will be discontinued Sept. 1, 2012.

The province also discontinued inter-jurisdiction distance funding, “which in a division our size, affects us a huge amount because we get paid per student,” explained Topylki.

She also mentioned how support staff increases aren't covered and class size funding for Grades 4-6 will be discontinued Sept. 1.

“The elimination of the programs or the reduction to the grants of the programs have affected us by a huge amount.”

Topylki will explain a detailed breakdown of how the cuts affect the division at its board of trustees meeting this week.

“When building new schools, especially elementary schools, playgrounds are not an option, they're a necessary part of any school, Grade 6 and below,” said Corbiere.

Both Corbiere and NLSD board chair Walter Hrycauk were disappointed money from the Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit wasn't transferred to the Ministry of Education for playgrounds, as was proposed.

Both advocate for the government to fund playgrounds as part of a school.

“We'd like to think that this a responsibility of the government and as it is now, it's basically the responsibility of the parents because they have to organize committees and start fundraising,” said Hrycauk.

He said the difference today versus 10 to 20 years ago, is a decent playground for a school of 300 students costs at least $250,000- $ 300,000 and it can take a decade to acquire.

“When school buildings are built, we build a school. We don't build playgrounds,” said Kathy Telfer, Alberta Education's communications director.

“Playgrounds are a community service or a facility. So it's a community resource, and it's up to the community to determine what sort of playground they may have.”

At its last meeting, the NLSD board discussed how if all instructional needs are met, money can be spent on playgrounds.

When asked about spending money on playgrounds, Telfer said school boards need to meet and focus on guidelines, but they are afforded flexibility when allocating funds.

“Local decision-making, local priorities. We don't tell them how to spend their money, but they certainly need to meet the objectives that are outlined in their annual education plan and make sure students are benefiting from it.”

NLSD will submit a playground policy to Zone 2/3 and Hrycauk hopes the directors will take it to the Alberta School Boards Association for the fall general meeting to see whether it garners support across province.

The policy would advocate for playground funding when a new school is built, he explained.

“So when the school doors open, day one, a playground is there and ready for the kids to use.”

The policy would also advocate for the government to repair and replace existing playgrounds, he added.

Hrycauk said he wasn't able to put the playground issue on the Zone 2/3 Feb. 25 meeting's agenda, but other board chairs reacted very positively in conversation.

“So we're going to take it forth and just lay it on the table and see what happens.”