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Northern Lights board approves deficit budget for '24-25 school year

Numbers fall short by $4.7 million on projected $90 million budget

LAKELAND - Trustees with Northern Lights Public Schools have approved the 2024-2025 budget, projecting a deficit of $4.7 million.  

For the upcoming school year, revenues are expected to be just over $94 million, with $82 million provided by the government of Alberta, and just over $8 million coming from Ottawa.  

Paula Elock, the secretary-treasurer for NLPS, presented highlights of the budget during the board’s most recent meeting. She explained that for the school division to maintain its current level of service – which includes small class sizes and classroom supports for students – it will have to draw from its financial reserves.  

Elock stated that the budget is enrolment driven, and even though higher enrolments mean more funding, it also means more expenses.  

The budget for the 2024-2025 school year projects just over $98 million in expenses, with 70 per cent of that money allotted to staffing.  

Nicole Garner, a spokesperson for Northern Lights, says previous deficits have been funded by using reserves. For the last couple of years, she continued, NLPS deficits have been smaller than officials projected in their annual budgets.  

“This is one of the reasons we are still able to have a deficit budget and maintain our current level of service, as we are still able to use reserves to cover a deficit,” Garner told Lakeland This Week.   

More students 

Garner says the increases in enrolment within the division aren’t coming from one place specifically. Some of it, she said, is due to students who went elsewhere during the COVID-19 pandemic, increases taking place in communities served by NLPS, as well as students moving through the grades.  

Using an example, she said if 400 students graduate, but there are 450 Kindergarten students enroled the following year, enrolment goes up by 50 students.  

“However, this can have an inverse effect in years when we have a larger graduating class and fewer students entering Kindergarten,” she said.  

An increase in the number of students enroled in the school division, Garner said, does not necessarily mean that there will be an increase in staffing as it depends where the increases are within the division.  

“At this point, we are looking to hire teachers, but it is to fill vacancies created by retirements, resignations, and leaves, not specifically due to an enrolment increase,” she said.  

When asked if NLPS officials have noticed a spike in costs in any particular areas that required more funding, Garner while there hasn’t been a specific spike in just one year, there has been an overall increase over several years in different areas. These include utilities, staffing costs, transportation, insurance, and software licensing.  

Inflation continues to impact the increase in costs.  

Vendors, she explained, want to keep up with inflation. Therefore, a three per cent increase per year without a corresponding increase in funding to offset those increased costs puts the school division behind.  

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