St. Albert trustees say they’re worried the MacKinnon report could lead to higher bus fees and more delays for the new Paul Kane High School.
Released Tuesday, the report of the MacKinnon Panel on Alberta’s Finances contains 26 recommendations to balance the provincial budget by 2023 without raising taxes. The report calls for at least a $600 million reduction in operational spending in the next four years plus a $1 billion reduction in capital spending in 2022-2023 relative to current budgets.
Two of the report’s recommendations target K-to-12 education, which accounts for about 17 per cent of the province’s operating budget.
The report found that about 24.6 per cent of every education dollar in Alberta goes toward administration and school operations, with the rest going to K-12 programming. It noted that a number of school boards had high per-student costs yet scored less than 50 per cent on the province’s accountability measures, and stated that, “the level of spending by a school board is not the key factor that drives better outcomes.”
The report criticized how the province currently funds schools on a mostly per-pupil basis, saying this discouraged co-operation between boards that could save money (e.g. shared busing or high schools) and did not link cash to the province’s strategic goals.
The report recommended that the province cut the percentage of education funding used for administration and governance to 17 per cent, as it is in B.C., from the current 24.6 per cent.
It also recommended that the government rewrite the education funding formula so that it addressed enrolment growth and encouraged shared services and better student outcomes.
Greater St. Albert Catholic board chair Joe Becigneul said it was “concerning” to see education in the crosshairs for this report.
“We’re operating right now with a huge level of uncertainty in terms of what our funding is going to be,” he said, as the province has yet to table a budget.
He also took issue with the report’s definition of “administration,” as it had lumped transportation, operations, and maintenance in with actual school administration. St. Albert Catholic’s actual administrative spending is well within the provincial limit of two to four per cent of a board’s budget.
Cutting “administration” cash as the report defined it would mean cuts to the cash needed to fix broken boilers and potentially to bus students who live more than 2.4 km from school to school, Becigneul said.
“Somebody has to pay for the buses,” he said, and if the cuts come here, that someone will be the parents.
“All indications are that this is where the cuts are going to come.”
St. Albert Public board chair Glenys Edwards disputed the report’s claims that per-pupil funding discouraged co-operation, saying that St. Albert’s boards regularly collaborated on school site allocations and other issues.
Edwards was also concerned that the report’s call for capital cuts could delay the new Paul Kane High School, which was set to start construction next year.
“It is critical we get more high school space in this district,” she said.
Becigneul and Edwards noted that school boards and the province are already working on changes to the per-pupil formula, but expressed caution about linking cash to student performance. A rural school might need more cash due to its remoteness, as might a school with many students with complex needs. Achievement level scores should not be the sole measure of success, Edwards said.
Edwards said her board would keep a close eye on this fall’s budget to see which, if any, of the report’s recommendations were implemented.
“We are concerned our funds might be cut.”
Sturgeon Public Schools chair Terry Jewell was not available for comment by press deadline.
The report is available at alberta.ca/mackinnon-report-on-finances.aspx.