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Budget & Finance : Dollars & Sense with CFO Brad Grundy
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Budget & Finance

Dollars & Sense with CFO Brad Grundy

​Chief Financial Officer Brad Grundy responds to some of the comments received via email and our budget feedback form. Please note, comments received from the public are not edited for spelling or clarity. All personal information is removed. 

Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you.  

 

 Financial supports for school fees and waivers

 
Comment 

​Shouldn’t public education be free? Why are you charging school fees if this is the case?

 

ResponseThe CBE is committed to students and their learning and the choices we make are based on that sole priority. We are also committed to keeping educational dollars in the classroom. Fees only go to cover items that are not fully funded by the government. In the case of noon supervision and ISM, no provincial funding is provided so the cost is covered by fees. In the case of transportation, the provincial government does provide some funding, but it doesn’t cover the total cost of the service.

While no one at the CBE wants to charge fees, they are an unfortunate reality and we work very hard to provide good value for the money spent.

Here are a few examples.

At the CBE, the transportation fee is $335 per school year, or $33.50 per month.

For that amount a student is picked up each and every school day, transported safely to their school and dropped off at their school.  At the end of the day the process is reversed with the student being picked up, safely transported and then dropped off close to their home.  Most students travel less than 800 metres to their yellow school bus stop. 

Over our approximate 184 school days that service costs about $1.82 per day.  By way of comparison, a one way fare on Calgary Transit for a student is $2.10.  A round trip would be $4.20;  so $1.82 is significantly less.

For noon supervision the fee is $285 for a five days a week coverage.  Over the school year that amounts to about $1.55 per day.  That ensures that your child is supervised while allowing teachers the time to focus on students and their learning.

The fee paid for noon supervision is also an eligible child care expense and can be claimed on your tax return for a credit.  Just as in transportation, only users of the service pay the fee.

Then there are the instructional supplies and materials fees.  This fee provides school supplies and other important materials.  That fee ranges from $30 for the early years to $152 for a high school student.  Once again, over the course of the school year that works out to between 16 and 83 cents per school day.

We are also criticized for not offering a family maximum. A family maximum is problematic for a few reasons.  First, a maximum simply moves the burden elsewhere.  For example, to smaller families not at the arbitrary maximum.  Or, the burden moves to the learning budget which means fewer dollars to directly support all students and their learning.  And finally, just because a family has multiple children does not necessarily mean they don’t have the ability to pay.  Our waiver process ensures that those who need relief, regardless of family size, have access to the support that they need.

The CBE collects about $51 million in fees in the course of the school year.  If we were to eliminate fees, that would mean that $51 million would have to be found somewhere else in the system to cover those costs.  To give you a sense of perspective, here is what $51 million means in our system:

  • $51 million pays for approximately 415 teaching positions across the system. However, we don’t consider cutting teaching positions to be a viable option because of the impact on learning.  It is, however, a choice that could be made.
  • $51 million is enough to fund five high schools annually, or about 10 good-sized elementary schools. Once again, not a viable option when we want to focus on students and their learning.

That said, where else could money be found?  Here are some other options:

  • Eliminate the entire budget for Facilities and Environmental Services and save $51.2 million.  While that generates the funding to pay for fees consider that no school would be maintained or repaired.  No custodial staff keeping the facilities clean and comfortable, no maintenance staff fixing the broken door or windows, no one to mow the lawns or clear the snow.
  • Eliminate the total amount spent on legal services, communications and public engagement, finance, information technology, human resources, the office of the Chief Superintendent and the Board of Trustees.  In doing this you save about $48.9 million but you are still short $2.1 million. You would still need to eliminate the equivalent of about 17 teachers. If we pick this option there is no one to purchase the goods and services, pay the bills, hire and support staff, maintain the technology infrastructure, communicate and engage with you, our students, parents, and community, or provide the necessary strategic direction to the CBE.
  • Eliminate the total amount dedicated to Board and System Administration (currently at a very modest 2.7 per cent of revenue and the lowest of the four metro school jurisdictions) of $37 million. You are still $14 million shy so you need to eliminate the equivalent of 114 teaching positions.  In doing this we have no elected trustees to advocate with the provincial government for adequate funding, no strategic direction or planning, and we eliminate all of the supports that are necessary to operate a $1.3 billion organization with 240 schools and more than 119,000 students.

When we do need to charge a fee we work diligently to ensure that we provide good value for the money paid.  No child is denied access to their public education by an inability to pay a fee, and we encourage families who may be struggling to apply for a waiver or to speak directly to their principal.

 

 Teachers getting jobs downtown

 

Nov. 3, 2016​​

Comment
Is it true that when teachers get jobs downtown they also get big raises?

 


ResponseRecently a lobby group suggested that teachers get a big raise when they go “downtown” within the CBE.  I thought a little additional information might be of use.

Teacher salaries are set out in the Alberta Teachers’ Association collective agreement. 

There are actually no “teaching” jobs downtown; our students are in our schools and that is predominately where the teaching happens.  However, we sometimes hire teachers to perform roles that support learning at a system (across the CBE) level.  Teachers hired to do this work fall into the categories of consultant, specialist, supervisor, associate or strategist.  The increments to pay associated with each of these roles is set out in the ATA collective agreement.

The roles of consultant, specialist or strategist are different from that of a teacher.  Accordingly, those positions are compensated differently.  That only makes sense: with greater responsibility and accountability comes increased pay. That is how the employment market works.  The same applies to principals.  Both principals and assistant principals who are hired to fulfill system level roles are compensated as system principals and system assistant principals.  Again, those rates of pay are clearly set out in the ATA collective agreement.

Speaking of the collective agreement, did you know that the last ATA collective agreement was negotiated by the provincial government rather than by the local school boards?  In fact, negotiation with the ATA on their collective agreement is now largely a provincial government responsibility.  That includes determining the appropriate rates of pay for the various roles filled by ATA members.

There is one last factor that creates a differential between the average compensation for school based teachers as opposed to teachers filling roles at the CBE’s Education Centre: experience.  The average teacher salary in schools would be impacted by the relatively large number of new teachers.  Given their limited experience, they are compensated at a lower level as per their collective agreement.  As they gain experience their salary increases.  As a general rule, teachers brought into system level roles will have many years of experience in the teaching profession.  As a result, their salaries are higher than that of a teacher new to the role.

Thank you and I hope that this information provides some additional context.


Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE)

 

 

 Shorting schools of funds

 

Nov. 3, 2016​​

Comment
 
I’ve heard that other school boards have much more of their budget going to the classroom. Why is this?


ResponseThere are a wide variety of ways in which school jurisdictions organize their operations in support of students and their learning.  While it would be nice to think that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to structure a school district, the reality is that each approach has both pros and cons. Regardless of the model chosen, the approach is focused on supporting students in their learning.

In Alberta, each of the four metro (Calgary and Edmonton) school jurisdictions have set themselves up differently; and yet each jurisdiction is able to consistently return strong student learning results.  It can be quite difficult to draw cross-jurisdictional comparisons because they are structured differently.  Recently, for example, a Calgary advocacy group has suggested that the CBE, in comparison to another district, shorts funding to its schools to the tune of $160 million.  The inference being that the other jurisdiction puts more of the resources into the classroom.

At the highest level this analysis is patently absurd.  The CBE would have to be near magicians to underfund our students by an amount that exceeds 10 per cent of our total budget, while still generating above average student outcomes.  If that assertion was true, our class sizes would have to be through-the-roof in comparison to other metro jurisdictions.  Obviously that is simply not the case.

Peeling the issue back further, the core issue is related to where the funding sits versus where the funding is used.  Broadly speaking, school boards operate on a continuum with all funding centralized on one end of the spectrum and all funds distributed on the other.  The metro boards fall in-between those two extremes.  At the CBE we allocate the majority of our funding out to schools through what we call the Resource Allocation Method, or RAM.  These dollars are provided to schools and can be used to purchase all the in-school resources necessary to provide a high quality education to students.  Other dollars are maintained centrally so that we can maximize the benefit to schools while at the same time minimizing the administrative burden placed on the school-based administration. 

As an example, consider psychologist supports.  The CBE could allocate dollars to each and every school to allow them to obtain required psychologist supports.  That is certainly a viable option.  The challenge, of course, is that every school has different student populations that require different psychologist supports.  To address this variability across the entire school system, the CBE has chosen to centralize the provision of psychologist supports.  By doing this we can aggregate dollars to ensure we maximize the available resources.  Purchasing bits and pieces of psychologist time at a number of schools is more expensive than purchasing a full psychologist centrally.  Centralization also allows us to send the psychologist where and when required to best meet the needs of our students.  It is not hard to imagine how a school’s need for psychologist supports will ebb and flow over time as the student population changes over the course of the year.  Centralizing the support allows us to provide maximum flexibility.

Back to the criticism that the CBE shorts its schools by $160 million: it is those centralized services that make up the vast majority of that amount.

Using an analogy, think about your home.  You need to purchase food.  One approach would be to provide some dollars to your daughter, your son, your spouse, and yourself.  Each person could then take their resources and go purchase the groceries for the week.  Your son might buy bananas and your daughter pies.  The benefit of this approach is that they can get exactly what they want.  Of course, a down side is that they would both have to buy milk.  Due to limited funding though, they might actually end up buying the more expensive one liter carton rather than the cheaper four litre container.  The alternative would be to hold the grocery budget centrally and assess the nutritional needs for the entire family.  You can then go purchase the necessary food to meet everyone’s needs.  You can probably also purchase more as you can access more quantity discounts (such as the four liters of milk).

To suggest that your son and daughter are short changed because they don’t get the dollars directly is obviously false.  In reality it is simply a different approach to feeding your family.

Perhaps a better measure of school district’s, at least in terms of funding flowing to students and their learning, is to look at the percentage of the budget spent on board and system administration.  Board and system administration is clearly defined by Alberta Education.  Because of that, it is a measure that is directly comparable across the four metro boards.  Alberta Education has also capped board and system administration costs at no more than 3.6 per cent of total revenue.  If you go to the Alberta Education website you can find this information for each of the metro districts.  What you will no doubt note is that every metro board spends well below that cap and in fact are generally at or below three per cent.  That means each jurisdiction is maximizing the dollars available to support students, notwithstanding how they are organized and structured to do it.

Thank you for asking; I hope that this information might be of some use.


Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE)

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