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 2020-2021

The 2020-21 school year has brought about many changes for the landscape of education, and finances were no exception. This is the first year under a new funding model for education which employs a weighted moving average for student enrolment. The intent of this model is to provide sustainable and predictable funding for school divisions. Now, enrolment is based on three-year averages, two of which are historical counts, and the third is the projection for the upcoming year. This resulted in a change in practice for enrolment projections. Typically, enrolment is determined in the spring for the following year. Now, enrolment will be project in December for the following year. While this does not sound like a significant change, the accuracy of projections decreases with the length of time away from the actual date. Fifty percent of the average is based on this less accurate projection. This, however, is somewhat buffered by the actual enrolment of the previous two years.

With this in mind, the initial enrolment projections for Northern Lights Public Schools were showing a decline over the prior two years. As predicted, now that the September 30th count has been largely completed, enrolment is 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. For 2020-21 the largest impact is likely due to the pandemic. On the heels of the significant increase in insurance, combined with a new funding model that will show a reduction in revenues over the next two years, the enrolment decline is of concern for Northern Lights Public Schools. The implications are such that NLPS is striving for a balanced budget without the use of reserves for the 2020-21 school year. That being said, the budget includes the commitment to priorities and enhancements identified by the Board of Trustees and senior administration, while reducing funding to activities that do not further the priorities. 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.
  • Continued full-time, five days/week kindergarten programming. The funding allocated for students reflects this directive, recognizing that there have been changes to the programming to align it closer to the provincial funding for kindergarten.
  • 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, and Inuit (FNMI) learners by ensuring staffing levels are aligned with educational needs of each site.
  • Allocation of dollars to build community partnerships, enhance marketing opportunities, and utilize social media to communicate and collaborate with parents and stakeholders.
  • Inclusion of our Care to Learn network (Preschool and Out of School Care). Although no provincial 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 continue to be 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 and Aurora Middle School in Lac La Biche, Kikino School and Caslan School in Kikino and Caslan respectively, and North Star Elementary School in Cold Lake.
  • The reintroduction of parent paid transportation for in town busing. This fee has a two-fold effect. First, there is an increase in fee revenue generation. Second, the registered users are individuals who are willing to pay for the service, which results in less demand and hence, less operating and capital costs.
  • Continuing with conducting a review of the Site-Based Management model and the funding attributed to it, especially now in light of the new funding model that does not align well with a site based approach.