The Northern Lights Board of Trustees approves a budget that is submitted to Alberta Education in June. These spring budgets are revised every fall once student enrollment numbers have been confirmed on September 30th of each year. A Fall Budget Update including these revisions is then submitted to Alberta Education at the end of November.

In the 2019-2020 school year, the Fall Budget Update deadline was extended and NLPS submitted an updated budget in January.

2019-2020 Budget Update

2019-2020 Spring Budget Submission

Budget Update 2019-2020

Statement Issued January 9, 2020

Over the past couple of months, the Northern Lights Public Schools Board of Trustees and division administration have been working diligently to address a $2.56 million shortfall in this year’s budget.

The $2.56 million shortfall is the result of three factors: 

  • a $1.5 million increase in the division’s insurance premiums (a 274% increase in property insurance premiums and a 38% increase on liability and other premiums);
  • a $700,000 reduction in funding from the provincial government (the difference between what the division was receiving through the class size initiative grant last year and what it will receive this year through a one-time funding to offset the loss of that grant, and an enrolment-related transportation grant reduction); and,
  • additional expenses identified since the initial 2019-2020 budget was approved by the Board in the spring. Some of these additional expenses are related to initiatives that will save the division money on a long-term basis, but require an initial investment in this school year.

“Our goal was to balance the budget without drastically affecting the services offered to students in our classrooms or passing costs on to parents without adequate time for consultation,” said Board Chair Arlene Hrynyk. “We are confident with the plan that has been developed that the direct impact on students will be minimal this year and we are committed to consulting with stakeholders when appropriate as we look at changes that may need to occur going forward.”

The majority of the shortfall will be offset by using school board reserves of $1,350,000. In addition the Board has taken the following steps:

  • Cut its own budget and reduced its spending by 6% compared to 2018-2019;
  • Identified efficiencies and reduced spending at the division level by nearly $700,000;
  • Asked schools with reserves to contribute 20% of those reserves towards the shortfall; and
  • Reduced funding to each school by $8 per student for the 2019-2020 school year.

School administration have been reviewing and making adjustments to their budgets to reflect the changes that were made. The impact on direct services to students and staffing levels is expected to be minimal.

“It is important to us that our students don’t experience any mid-year disruptions in their classrooms as a result of the financial situation we are dealing with,” explained Hrynyk. “We know our students, parents, and staff are experiencing a lot of anxiety due to stories they may have read or rumours they may have heard, and we want to reassure everyone that we are doing our best to ensure we maintain services to our students while operating in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The Board is looking forward to the results of the provincial funding framework review that is currently underway and will determine how much funding boards will receive from the government starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Once that has been announced, the Board will begin developing its budget for next year.

“We are hopeful that the funding framework review will provide equitable and predictable funding for boards across the province and, in particular, address some of the circumstances that are unique to rural boards,” explained Hrynyk.

In the meantime, the Board is taking several steps to prepare for a potential budget shortfall next year. This includes continuing to work with the provincial government and school boards across the province on potential solutions to address the increase in insurance premiums all boards are dealing with. After discussing the issue with local MLA’s David Hanson and Laila Goodridge at their December 13th board meeting, the Board is optimistic that with some time to work on the issue, there will be options identified that could reduce the impact.

The Board and administration will also continue to look for efficiencies and opportunities to reduce costs in the system while minimizing the impact on students in the classroom.

“It is important to us that if any changes need to be made for the 2020-2021 school year, that, whenever possible, we give our stakeholders opportunities to provide us with input so that we can make decisions that best reflect the needs of our students and our communities,” said Hrynyk. “We encourage all of our students, parents and community partners to take advantage of the opportunities provided to them through our stakeholder consultations, and to work with us to identify options and find solutions that will enable us to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our students.”

Key Financial Information 2019-2020

Northern Lights Public Schools revenues are driven by student enrolment. Initial projections for the 2019-2020 school year anticipated a modest decline in enrolment compared to the prior school year. However, now that the September 30th head count has been largely completed, enrolment is slightly lower than projected in the spring. There are a number of factors that impact enrolment, including the economy, transportation decisions and activities of other school divisions operating within the same area. The 2019-2020 budget includes several priorities and enhancements identified by the Board of Trustees and senior administration. These include:

  • School improvement continues to be a focal point for the jurisdiction including measuring and analyzing student achievement to improve results across the Division as identified by both Alberta Education and Northern Lights Public Schools.
  • Continue full-time, five days/week Kindergarten programming. The funding allocated for students reflects this directive.
  • Allocation of dollars to maintain staff development for Kindergarten to Grade 12, primarily in the areas of numeracy. This enhanced plan was implemented in 2016-17 with the introduction of Learning Consultants and focused on both literacy and numeracy.
  • Continued commitment to narrowing the gap for First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) learners by employing various intentional methods.
  • Allocation of dollars to build community partnerships, enhance marketing opportunities, and utilize social media to communicate and collaborate with parents and stakeholders.
  • Promotion of dual credit opportunities for our high school students, including offering a service rig training program. This program is also offered to other school divisions and it is anticipated that in 2019-2020 students from across the province will take advantage of this rare educational opportunity. These programs involve extensive partnership and donor involvement.
  • Inclusion of our Care to Learn network (Preschool and Out of School Care). Although no dollars are allocated to fund this program, we provide space in our facilities and are working towards programming integrations for the benefit of students and families. Preschool students are now registered in our system through PowerSchool, resulting in simplified registration processes once they are enrolled in ECS.
  • Allocation of resources to enhance trades exposure in middle schools via our mobile CTS lab.
  • Continuation of the collaborative effort to offer the nutrition program at Vera M. Welsh Elementary School in Lac La Biche and North Star Elementary School in Cold Lake.
  • A transfer of funding from the instructional envelope to our maintenance department to address the lack of sufficient funding in Plant, Operations and Maintenance, which is a major risk to our operation. Current funding levels have been insufficient to sustain operational expenses in order to maintain facilities and for 2019-2020, increased in insurance have severely impacted both the budget and operational realities. As well, increased utility, custodial and waste management costs quickly erode funding grants, especially with aging facilities. Tendering of custodial contracts helped in finding additional funds, but could not address the insurance impacts. Instructional funding has also been used to alleviate financial pressures on our Maintenance department and offset the operational loss. As a result, maintaining the per student funding allocation to within 1 % of the prior year is no longer a realistic target for development of the budget.
  • No fees for parent paid transportation. With this reduction in fee revenue, Northern Lights Public Schools will have to transfer funds from Instruction to cover the shortfall in the Transportation envelope so that parents are not put in a decision to choose an alternate system due simply to busing costs. This is in addition to an anticipated decreased in transportation funding due to decreased enrolment.
  • NLPS Board and administration will be using reserves to offset reductions from funding decreases and increased insurance expenditures, in order to protect the classroom. The impact of the provincial budget is being primarily offset through system reserves and efficiencies in operations.
  • Continuing with conducting a review of the Site-Based Management model and the funding attributed to it.