Wild Rose set for deficit

In their most recent board meeting on May 21, the Wild Rose School Division passed their annual budget for the 2024/25 school year.

As it sits, the division will be running a deficit of $1.87 million. WRSD superintendent Brad Volkman says this means that the division is projecting it will have to spend that much more than what they will receive from the government.

“Now how do we do that? We’ve got reserves,” says Volkman.

He says the government requires school divisions to have a minimum amount of money in their reserves. This amount is one percent of their total revenue. Volkman says that while this amount will bring the division fairly close to the minimum amount allowable, they will still have enough to meet government requirements.

Volkman says that though they are running a deficit, the division worked hard to ensure class sizes didn’t increase, that educational assistants or teachers wouldn’t be cut, and services for children with special needs will not be affected.

“I would call this a status quo budget except for in one area,” says Volkman.

That area is the family wellness workers and therapists within the schools that offer mental health support for students and their families. He says the division typically spends a little more than a million dollars in this area every year.

“The board cut approximately $220,000 from that budget,” says Volkman.

He says there will be some reduction in services. At this point, they don’t have any details on what that reduction will look like.

Volkman says the WRSD board got together with each of the municipalities in its region to write a letter to the Minister of Health and Minister of Education to make a case that there needs to be more mental health support made available. He says this includes speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, amongst others.

“In a rural school division, we just don’t have enough of that,” says Volkman.

If a student in a rural area requires some of those services, they are going to have a difficult time finding a therapist nearby. “Sometimes it’s just not possible for parents,” says Volkman.

He says in the past, Alberta Health would come into the schools to offer the services for students. At this point, they do not do that.

“We’ve gotten to the place where we’ve had to contract some of those services out for the division,” he says.

The benefit of hiring contractors from private practices is that they will come to the school and work with the children there, says Volkman. Parents don’t have to make trips to larger urban centres to ensure their child gets the care they need.

He says the division believes that the funding the government gives to schools should be mostly going toward education. Instead, they feel it should be Alberta Health’s responsibility to provide these services for students.

Volkman says they did receive a response, but it wasn’t one that promised any changes. However, it did invite them to another meeting and the division is in the process of planning what that next meeting may look like.

One area that will see an enhancement is transportation. This is due to changes in government requirements regarding how far students are expected to walk in their communities.

“There’s going to be some in town busing,” he says. “We’ll be spending more money on transportation next year.” This additional expenditure won’t affect students who don’t live within the municipalities.

The sale of the land on 50th street will help to replenish some of the capital reserves, which was used to purchase the parcel of land next to the Powerhouse Campus. But Volkman says it’s important for people to realize that they will still need to develop the land.

“Once Ricochet is done with the land reclamation, we need to build a very beautiful sports field for rugby and football and such,” says Volkman. “That could easily cost $500,000.”

He says there are specifications that are required when developing the land for that purpose. It will have to be crowned correctly, be sloped correctly, there even has to be a specific type of grass.

The division is hoping to be able to partner with a sponsor in the community to help with the costs of development. He says there is a committee in place to address issues like costs and possible sponsorships.

Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Drayton Valley and District Free Press