It’s an exciting and challenging year coming up for St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Schools, as the board of trustees recently approved its 2016-17 operating budget, just over $45 million, at its Budget Review Board Meeting Nov. 24. But a school board budget isn’t quite like similar documents for, say, a town or city.
Board of trustees chair Thalia Hibbs said the school board has unique challenges all their own that is part of the budgeting process. “Of course, school boards are kind of the opposite of municipalities,” said Hibbs by phone Dec. 13.
Hibbs said the operating budget is initially developed in the spring and then updated in late fall for board approval. She said a big challenge for trustees is estimating or predicting in the spring what will be happening across the division in the late fall. Hibbs said hitting predictions 100 per cent of the time isn’t easy to do.
“It never seems to be the case,” she said.
For example, last spring the STAR Catholic trustees estimated 1.5 per cent growth, but the actual growth as of Sept. 30 was 5.5 per cent. “So that’s certainly one of the biggest challenges when it comes to budgeting,” added Hibbs.
She also noted no capital plans or projects had to be changed or cancelled in the budget. “I wouldn’t say any has been changed or cancelled,” said Hibbs, who noted the board already knew one new Leduc school’s opening had to be delayed until the new year. Big projects like the new Ft. Leduc School and another new school in Beaumont have progressed nicely. Hibbs stated Ft. Leduc’s grand opening will be held in Jan., 2017.
The board chair said there is one item that may or may not have an impact, and that is a teacher contract. Hibbs stated the trustees didn’t know much about this situation in June; since then, teachers have been working without a contract since August. Negotiations are centralized at the provincial level and funding comes from the Alberta government for teacher salaries, but Hibbs stated there have been instances in the past where school boards had to self-fund agreements. “Again, that element of unknown,” said Hibbs.
She said if the trustees had to say they were most proud of something in this 2016-17 budget, it would probably be that some surpluses collected from previous budgets were re-invested into classrooms along with more support for the division’s central office.
The board chair also said she’s pleased with the fiscal situation of the division. “I’m really proud of the financial situation we’re in and also the decisions we make,” said Hibbs.
Hibbs also explained all school divisions are required to submit three year education plans to the government, which includes everything from the financial situation to board priorities, and this process is something that STAR Catholic has earned a reputation for. The division goes above and beyond to include virtually all levels of people inside and outside the organization.
The board chair said trustees invite stakeholders to join them in Leduc for education plan input and consultation. Stakeholders include students, parents, parishioners, teachers and administrators spend a day giving feedback so trustees can better identify priorities.
The chair said trustees even want to expand that consultation to having another day just for students, plus the full stakeholders day described above. “We just thought we wanted to hear more from the students,” said Hibbs.
“There’s always room for improvement,” she added.