Hard times in education funding

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

These are not the easiest of times for rural school divisions. Councillors from the M.D. of Lesser Slave River found out how hard it is when they attended a ‘Soup With the Super’ session with the superintendent of Aspen View Schools.
Councillor Darren Fulmore, reporting on that meeting at last week’s council meeting, told his colleagues what he learned about the state of the school division’s finances was not encouraging. For example, Aspen View has been running a deficit the past few years, covering it out of reserves.
“There comes a point,” Fulmore said the super told them, “where there’s nowhere left to cut. He’s looking for people to lobby with them for base funding.”
The idea of ‘base’ funding is that it would cover fixed costs of running schools, which don’t go down when enrollment falls. Student numbers are declining, generally, in rural areas. Since provincial funding for schools is based on enrollment, divisions like Aspen View are suffering.
“He said he could live with no more money,” added reeve Murray Kerik. “As long as he didn’t get any less.”
But if population trends continue, and the funding model stays the same, less is what Aspen View will be getting.
“Rural Alberta is emptying out of people,” observed councillor Robert Esau.
Offering some anecdotal support for that, councillor Garry Horton said when he started driving school bus from his area in Moose Portage to Smith, he had about 40 kids on his route.
“I don’t think there are six now.”
“The writing is on the wall,” said councillor Brad Pearson. “The funding model has to change.”
Esau said city schools, bursting at the seams with immigrant enrollment, are able to put money away, while rural schools starve. There’s enough money in the system, provincially, he said; what’s needed is reallocation.

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