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Mr McFarland questions Minister of Education Hancock on school board cutbacks and clawbacks

October 28, 2009

The following is copied from the October 27, 2009, printed transcripts of the Legislative debate and discussion:

 

Mr. McFarland (Little Bow PC): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I’ve been

hearing from three of the school boards in our riding about recent cuts of

some $80 million to school board budgets.  In addition, I think many

of us have seen the ads where the ATA and the ASBA have expressed

their interest in this issue.  To the minister: if investing in our

education is really so critical to the economic prosperity and

recovery of this province, why would the minister contemplate

taking some $80 million from some of our school boards when they

themselves feel it would be counterproductive?

 

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

 

Mr. Hancock (Edmonton-Whitemud PC): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the budget was presented earlier this year, it was clear that there

was an in-year adjustment that was going to be required, and every

department was asked to do a value review of their functions to determine

what savings could be made to meet that target for the adjustment.  Our

assigned target was $80 million.  We looked at what was happening

in our department, and we took $24 million out of the budget to the

department by seeing what could be deferred, what could be done

differently, how we could do it in a different way.  That’s 20 per

cent of the budget to the department itself.  The others were assigned

to the school boards to come out of reserves.

 

The Speaker: The hon. member.

 

Mr. McFarland (Little Bow PC): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  While

I accept the explanation, as a former trustee myself the question begs

answering: why would a board that is fiscally prudent and puts money

aside for identified projects be penalized or have money taken back when

those boards who haven’t been as fiscally prudent have nothing to

contribute?

 

Mr. Hancock (Edmonton-Whitemud PC): Mr. Speaker, what we

were trying to accomplish was to make sure that the students in the

classroom were not affected by this adjustment.  That was the important

outcome that was necessary for the process.  When we went to the school

boards, we first adjusted two grants that could be adjusted by virtue of

results from Statistics Canada.  In other words, we do one top-up grant

for cost indexing and another one for socioeconomic status, so those would

have been adjusted in any event.  School boards would have

expected that.  Then we went to school boards and said: we’ll take

up to but not more than 11 per cent of your operating reserve and ask

you to take it out of operating reserve, not out of the classroom.  In

other words, we all saved for a rainy day.  We all saved for a

purpose.  Now is the time when we need to use some of those

resources not to cancel projects but to stretch them out.

 

The Speaker: The hon. member.

 

Mr. McFarland (Little Bow PC): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank

you to the minister.  I guess the next obvious and final question is: of the

boards that you took money from, when we return to balanced

budgets, would you specifically look at returning money to those

specific boards who contributed to this situation in the first place?

 

Mr. Hancock (Edmonton-Whitemud PC): Mr. Speaker, what we are

doing is having conversations with boards around the province and

asking them to participate with us in the value review process so that

decisions can be made, as we go forward, on a thoughtful, evidence-based,

and value-driven basis, and we will be doing that with boards.  There

will be some changes as a result of our discussions, undoubtedly, in funding

formulas.  I have to say that not all boards would agree that the

funding formulas have been effective for all of them to date, so

they’re all thoughtfully working with us on developing the right

funding model, recognizing that we’re in difficult fiscal times but

also recognizing that all of our decisions need to be based on

evidence and value driven. (1576)

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