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Under the Northern Lights - April 20, 2022

Good News Items

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards highlighted several events she attended recently including a webinar on understanding your legal landscape, an Alberta Health Services North Zone engagement session, and BCHS, Duclos and Glendon school council meetings.

  • Board Vice-Chair Garry Kissel congratulated Glendon School Jr/Sr Leadership Team on hosting a very successful Cake and Dish Auction prior to Spring Break. The event raised over $5,200 with one cake selling for over $1,100. The funds will be shared between support for the Ukraine, the Bonnyville and District SPCA, and the leadership team.

  • Jimmi Lou Irvine, Associate Superintendent, congratulated the Cold Lake Middle School Inclusive Education team for being recognized as a Shining Star for the month of March by the Lakeland Centre for FASD for making a difference in the lives of individuals with FASD.

  • Trustee Lois Phillips thanked the Aurora Middle School school council for their warm welcome at a recent school council meeting.

  • Superintendent Rick Cusson congratulated Glendon School Principal Maureen Ference and Art Smith Aviation Academy Principal Andrea Farrell for being recognized as exemplary leaders by the ATA's Council for School Leadership.

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented Good News items from schools focusing on their school plans. The full presentation is available on our website: Good News - April 20, 2022


Cenovus Appointment

Lise Warawa and Alex Okinczyc from Cenovus joined the meeting to discuss recent changes with the company and initiatives to support schools and the community.

Board Chair Karen Packard thanked them for the ongoing support NLPS receives from Cenovus, including a $10,000 contribution to help provide food security for students. Cenovus employees have also been contributing through payroll deductions, resulting in an additional $6,600 for NLPS students.

A little over a year ago, Cenovus acquired Husky, resulting in many changes to the company's operation. Warawa and Okinczyc confirmed that Cenovus remains committed to supporting the communities through social investments in four focus areas: Indigenous reconciliation, protected planet, future-ready youth, and resilient communities.


Provincial Budget

Secretary-Treasurer Paula Elock presented the Board with information on changes to funding made in the provincial budget and the 2022-2023 funding profile for the school division.

The provincial budget featured a 1% increase to base grants for students, 1% increase to operations and maintenance, and a 4.6% increase for transportation. Despite these increases, NLPS will receive the same amount of overall funding for the 2022-2023 school year that it did in 2021-2022.

Elock explained that in the case of operations and maintenance funding, which covers things like utilities, insurance, and expenses related to operating the division's facilities, that grant is based on the utilization rates of each school. Since enrolments have decreased, utilization rates have also decreased, resulting in virtually no difference in funding in that area.

Other changes to the provincial funding for school divisions include distance education funding for non-primary schools, a grant for start up costs for division's opening new schools, funding for a First Nation Framework Agreement, and the addition of a collegiate policy framework.

Superintendent Rick Cusson explained that while some information has been shared about the collegiate policy framework, all of the requirements and details have not been released yet. The program would allow divisions to establish programs in high schools that focus on career pathways that feed directly into post-secondary for students. Cusson said without seeing all of the details, it is difficult to determine whether the program will be feasible or sustainable for smaller communities.

Overall for 2022-2023 NLPS will receive just over $68 million in funding from the provincial government. That includes $4.8 million in bridge funding that ensures that divisions were held harmless due to the impact the pandemic had on enrolment. That funding is not guaranteed after 2022-2023. It also includes a $1.18 million clawback from the government due to the division's enrolment projections being higher than actual enrolments.

Changes were also made to how school board reserves are handled. Each school board has been given a maximum amount it can hold in operating reserves after August 2023. For NLPS, this will be equivalent to 3.42% of operating expenditures from the prior year. If the Board has more than that in reserves after August 2023, it will need to be returned to the government. Elock noted that the division has budgeted for a deficit for the current school year and if it meets its targets, reserves will be close to 2%, well under the 3.42% cap. Exemptions can be made for short-term, one-time projects that require funds to be set aside, but that needs approval from the Minister of Education. Boards also now need approval from the Minister of Education to transfer funds to capital reserves.

Both Elock and Cusson noted that expenses have been increasing so one of the challenges for next year's budget will be maintaining the level of service the division is currently providing, without having received enough funding to offset those increased costs. 

Another challenge as reserves are depleted will be cash flow and ensuring there are funds to pay expenses, including payroll, at times when the division is waiting for revenues to be received. Currently the division has a line of credit that assists with that, but the amount available is based in part on the division's reserves and will likely decrease as reserves decrease.


COVID Update

Bill Driedger, Associate Superintendent, reported that there have been no recent changes to the public health restrictions related to COVID or the guidance documents that school divisions are required to follow.

Prior to spring break, the division was seeing absences due to illness increasing for both students and staff. Some schools were struggling to find substitutes for teachers and support staff who were ill. Now that staff and students have returned to school, the division will continue to monitor absences due to illness and will be working on a plan to increase the number of classroom supervisors who are available to assist schools who are unable to find substitute teachers to replace staff who are ill.


Cold Lake Middle School Renaming Consultation

The Board reviewed the input provided by the public in relation to changing the name of Cold Lake Middle School to Cold Lake Junior High.

Board Chair Karen Packard thanked the students at Cold Lake Middle School, Nelson Heights Middle School and Art Smith Aviation Academy on working together to come up with the new name.

The Board approved the name change for the school effective for the 2022-2023.


BCHS Volleyball Court Update

The Board reviewed a request from the Town of Bonnyville to convert the beach volleyball courts at the school into pickleball courts. The plan also includes refurbishing part of the tennis courts.

The Board agreed to enter into a partnership with the Town for the project, noting there were benefits for both students at the school and the community.


Youth Assessment Centre

Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent, reported that the division had received notice that the Youth Assessment Centre in Lac La Biche would be closed starting next year for a major renovation. The division currently provides educational services at the centre. Moghrabi said the renovations are expected to take up to three years and services will not be required during that time. 


Curriculum Update

Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent, reported on meetings held with Alberta Education regarding the implementation of new curriculum for Kindergarten to Grade 6. Implementation will take place over three years, starting in September 2022. 

NLPS K-6 teachers reviewed the draft curriculum at the division's last professional development day and expressed concern about resources. Moghrabi shared that Alberta Education has since launched a new site that includes authorized and recommended resources for most of the outcomes. This does not include textbooks, but does include websites, videos, documents and more. The government also announced that funding would be provided to school divisions so that they could develop and purchase their own resources.

Staff were also concerned about accessing professional development related to the new curriculum. Moghrabi reported that the government will be providing synchronous and asynchronous professional development for teachers in May and June. School divisions can also create opportunities for their staff as well.