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Under the Northern Lights - March 29, 2023

Good News Items

  • Trustee Lois Phillips thanked J.A. Williams High School for the opportunity to chaperone a dance. She noted this was a fun way to interact with students.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards highlighted her attendance at a CBC live broadcast focusing on rural health in Alberta that took place at the Bonnyville and District Centennial Centre on February 24th. This was an opportunity to share information about the difficulties families and the division experience with accessing mental health services for students

  • Superintendent Rick Cusson congratulated Associate Superintendent on being recognized at the recent College of Alberta School Superintendents retirement banquet. Moghrabi is retiring at the end of this school year. 

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented the board with Numeracy highlights from schools throughout the division. The full presentation is available on our website: Good News - Numeracy - March 29, 2023.


Transportation Update

Matt Richter, Director of Transportation, provided the Board with an update on student transportation, including the progress the division and its bus contractors have made in finding drivers to fill vacant bus routes. At the beginning of the school year, the division was short seven drivers. Throughout the year, new drivers have been hired and trained to fill routes, but other routes have lost drivers. As of the day of Richter's report, the division's routes were short four drivers, three in Cold Lake and one in Kikino. 

So far this year, the division's driver training school has trained 11 new drivers and provided S course training for an additional 14 drivers. Additional training will also be taking place this spring. Richter said a recent driver training grant that will cover up to $1,200 for each new driver that is trained, may help with recruitment. 

The division also purchased some new buses so they now have a spare bus in case one breaks down. Richter noted that finding equipment and parts has become difficult and expensive. It can take 6-9 months to receive a bus once it is purchased and costs have increased by $30,000 per bus over the last 18 months. 

While it initially looked like the division would receive increased transportation funding as a result of the recent provincial budget announcement, that does not appear to be the case, Richter noted. While the division will not receive increased funding for transportation, which the division hoped to pass on to contractors, the continuation of the Fuel Price Contingency Program is appreciated as many contractors had indicated that they could not afford to operate if it was not in place. 

The budget announcement also announced changes to distance eligibility. Beginning Sept. 1, 2024, K-6 students who live more than 1 km from their designated school, and 7-12 students who live more than 2 km from their designated school will be eligible for busing. School divisions can implement those changes earlier, but will only receive funding if those students actually ride the bus. Since it is unlikely NLPS will be able to offer those services in 2023-2024 due to the shortage of bus drivers, the division will not receive that funding next year. This change is estimated to increase ridership by approximately 600 students, requiring an additional 12 bus routes to be added. 

Trustees noted that the Catholic school division had recently changed their school calendar and it is more closely aligned to the NLPS calendar. They asked whether or not there could be synergies to cooperating with busing. Richter noted that while all NLPS buses are full, there could be synergies if the other division's routes are not at capacity and as new routes are added to address the changes to eligibility. 

2023-2024 Budget

Secretary-Treasurer Paula Elock reviewed the division's provincial funding profile and recent budget announcement with the Board. While funding increases were announced in several areas of the budget, this was offset by removal of the bridge funding the division has been receiving for the last several years since the new funding formula was introduced. The division received $4.8 million in bridge funding and COVID mitigation last year. The budget changes that were announced will result in grant increases of $2.6 million, plus funding for the teachers' salary settlement and a supplemental enrolment grant. 

The result is the overall funding the division receives from the provincial government will remain relatively the same, except for additional funds received as a result of increased enrolment . Elock noted that while the division will not be receiving an overall funding increase, it will be operating without the uncertainty of the bridge funding, which provides the division with stability moving forward. Superintendent Rick Cusson noted that the division has originally anticipated that the bridge funding would be removed entirely in 2022-2023, which would have resulted in a significant decrease to the division's budget.

Specific changes to the funding include a six per cent increase to the base grants, a 10 per cent increase to student services and supports grants including the new classroom complexity grant, a five per cent increase to operations and maintenance funding, a decrease in Infrastructure Maintenance Renewal and Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding, and just under 20% increase in one of the community grants for the school nutrition program. The division will also receive the supplemental enrolment growth grant, given to divisions with enrolment growth between 2.5-5%.


Capital Plan

The Board approved the 2023-2026 Capital Plan for submission to the provincial government.

The Board's top capital priority remains Vera M. Welsh Elementary School. The school has been approved for design funding, but needs to remain on the capital plan until construction is approved. Secretary-Treasurer Paula Elock explained that the Board needed to confirm the location of the new school by mid-April so that work on the design could start and proceed quickly enough to be considered for a construction announcement next year. The Board confirmed that the location for the new school will be next to the Bold Centre.

The rest of the division's capital priorities remain the same as last year. North Star Elementary School in Cold Lake is #2 on the list as a replacement school project, a new school for Buffalo Lake is #3, and a modernization of Ecole Plamondon School is #4. Elock explained that NLPS has requested planning dollars for both North Star and Ecole Plamondon to determine if a modernization or a replacement school is the best way to go. In the case of Ecole Plamondon, Elock noted it has been on the capital plan as a modernization for so long that at this point, it may make sense to request a replacement school instead as additional issues have been identified since it was first identified as a modernization project.

The 2023-2026 Capital Plan has been posted on the division's website.


2022 Friends of Education Award

The Board presented a 2022 Friends of Education Award to the Bonnyville Friendship Centre. The Centre was recognized for the myriad of ways they support local schools including the Friends for Lunch Program, free tutoring program, support for graduating students, mental health awareness, cultural awareness events and presentations, connecting schools with Elders, and partnering on student leadership and citizenship projects.

In addition to recognizing the Bonnyville Friendship Centre with a Friends of Education Award, the Board has also nominated the Centre for the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta Award for Promoting or Advancing one or more of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in relation to education within Alberta. 

This was the fourth and final 2022 Friends of Education Award presentation. The Board previously recognized Cold Lake Public Library, Brian Deheer, and First Nations Health Consortium with awards. Nominations for 2023 will open later this spring.

Full news release: 2022 Friends of Education Award - Bonnyville Friendship Centre


Edwin Parr Award

The Board selected Alex Ryl from Kikino School as its nominee for the Alberta School Boards' Association Edwin Parr Award. The award recognizes outstanding first year teachers.


Learning Together Anywhere Review

Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent, provided the Board with a review of the division's Learning Together Anywhere School. The review is the result of a Board motion made when the school was established. 

Learning Together Anywhere was introduced as a program in 2020 to provide families with an alternate option to in person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It became a school for the 2021-2022 school year. The school offers virtual learning opportunities for students in Kindergarten to Grade 9 and is also the host school for home education students. In 2020-2021 the school's enrolment was 168 students. In 2022-2023 there are 31 students enrolled with LTA.

Following Moghrabi's presentation, the Board requested that Superintendent Rick Cusson examine the viability of the school and any efficiencies that could be made, and provide the Board with recommendations at its next meeting.


2023-2024 School Calendar Update

Bill Driedger, Associate Superintendent, presented the Board with an amended 2023-2024 School Calendar. After the calendar was approved, it was discovered that the number of instructional and operational days in November had been miscounted. As a result, Driedger recommended adding a Family Friday on November 10 to create a four-day long weekend. 

The updated calendar has been posted on our website: 2023-2024 School Calendar