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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.  

 

 Questioning School Fees

 

CommentUnder school fees, it says “any common fees charged to an entire student body or grade cohort.” Does this mean if a school has, for example, a swimming program, outdoor school program, or inline skating program that these fees are now exempt? Can parent councils fund these events if there is no longer a school fee?

ResponseThank you for taking the time to submit this question as part of our budget development process for 2017-18.

The short answer is that we do not know. We understand that Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees will likely pass the Legislative Assembly later this month. We have also been told to expect the related regulations to be completed “later in the spring,” based on conversations with the Ministry of Education.

Your specific question should be answered by the regulations. It is possible that the regulations specific to your question won’t be delivered until later in the year. If that should come to pass, we would anticipate that the rules currently in place would continue. That is, no change at this time.

Unfortunately we are in a wait and see state.

With regard to a parent council I would offer only that parent councils are separate legal entities which can fundraise as they see fit, in collaboration with their school administration. That is within their authority and discretion.

Thank you for your questions. I hope that this information is of some value.

Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE)

 

 Classroom Cleanliness

 

​​CommentI continue to have to work with students in a classroom that is constantly dusty and dirty - on the floor, on the furniture, on the windows, on the blinds. This does not promote wellness or good health for staff or students. Not enough caretakers, not enough equipment and not enough major cleaning being done during holidays and summer.

Response

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments with us as we move through the 2017-18 budget development process.

In reading your note I thought that some additional information might be of interest to you and perhaps to others. As you would expect, we focus a lot of our resources on maintaining our 240 schools. While I am sorry to hear that you have experienced a level of cleanliness that does not meet with your expectation, this would seem to be an exception rather than the rule.

In regards to the qualitative (cleanliness level) component, 100 per cent of CBE schools achieved level two “silver” standard of caretaking and cleanliness during the 2015-16 school year. Where we become aware of practices that are below our expectations, we take corrective action to ensure our students continue to experience a safe, healthy and supporting learning environment.

With regard to the quantitative (cost) aspect, the Kinnaird report compares plant, operating and maintenance costs of some 20 participating Alberta school boards on an annual basis. The 2016 report fixed CBE custodial costs per unit area at $28.44 versus the Alberta school boards average of $30.33.

We have also evaluated the benefit, if any, of contracting out our school-based maintenance services. At this time we do not see a quantifiable benefit from contracting out those services.

Thank you again for your thoughts and I hope that this information is of some value to you and others.

Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE)

 

 Get Back to the Basics

 

​​CommentI believe there will continue to be a gap in budget as long as we continue to offer alternate programs at no extra cost. When my children went to school, everyone went to the designated neighbourhood school. If you wanted your child to attend a French/Spanish/art school etc., then you paid for this school and were responsible to get your child there or pay for the cost associated in transportation. I firmly believe we need to get back to being great at the basics of educating students rather than trying to please everyone. I believe given less choices will not stop people who wish to make other decisions. It is evident every day in the school I work at where I see elementary students who can't read. I think having other options is great if the budget can afford it or if we have met the basic learning all children need to be responsible productive people. How will a student in Grade 3 who still can't read benefit in their future when they won't be able to fill in a job application? I think we have gone too far in one direction and need to come back to the basics of learning.

Response

Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your thoughts on budget 2017-18. In reading your note I thought that you and others may appreciate some additional information related to alternative programs.

When funding becomes tight and decisions need to be made it is not uncommon to look to alternative programs. I would begin by offering that the CBE provides a range of alternative programs because our stakeholders have asked for them. We strive to listen and respond to the needs of students, parents and our community. I would also note that it has been the long-term direction of Alberta Education to support and offer choice where and when possible.

I am happy to address the cost of alternative programs.

Our largest alternative programs are language related. The two largest programs are French and Spanish. In terms of costs, there really isn’t an incremental cost to the CBE of offering these programs. Language programs are identical to our regular program, except of course for the language of instruction. We do not hire additional teaching and support staff to support our alternative programs. From a curricular perspective, alternative programs do not change what is taught; rather they tend to focus more on how the curriculum is delivered. Because of this there is very little incremental cost associated with alternative programs.

The one area where there may be some incremental costs is related to transportation. Coming up with a definitive dollar value, however, is made difficult because many of these students would have to be bused no matter if they are in an alternative program or designated school.

With regard to transportation and alternative programs, I would be remiss if I didn’t also note the extensive public engagement we conducted in 2016. Our public told us that they do not want us to differentiate our transportation fees based on the program the student attends. Based on that feedback, we have strived to charge for transportation at a rate that does not vary by program. However, we are now waiting to see what changes may need to be adopted in light of the provincial government’s Bill 1, An Act to Reduce Student Fees. Please continue to monitor our website for more information on this topic.

Thank you again for taking the time to provide your input into our budget process. I hope that this additional information is of some use.

Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE) 

 

 Focus on Teachers

 

CommentMaybe the CBE should stop spending a significant amount of taxpayer dollars on 'administrative' positions, superintendents, system principals, offices and area offices, and focus on spending on more teachers who actually are in the classroom with the 'target audience' of education. I doubt you'll post this comment, because you don't dare!

Response


Thank you for taking the time to provide your input regarding our 2017-18 budget. As has been my practice I would like to provide some additional information that you may find of use.
 
Within the CBE we have more than 14,000 employees (9,971 Full Time Equivalents). This runs from the Chief Superintendent through to custodial staff, secretaries and educational assistants. Of those 14,000 employees, about 98 per cent are covered by some form of collective agreement. The largest employee association is the Alberta Teachers’ Association, which covers all of our certificated staff. The second largest union is the Staff Association, which covers a range of positions including noon hour supervisors, educational assistants, school secretaries and many others.
 
Out of our total complement of employees, only about 200 are exempt from union or association membership. That is less than 2 per cent of our employees. Fully 91 per cent of our staff are school based, 7 per cent are non-school-based, two per cent are exempt and only 7 staff members are superintendents. I would further note that of the 7 per cent who are non-school based, the majority are staff who provide services and supports directly to schools including psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.
 
This spring we are expanding our area offices from the previous five to the seven that will be fully in place for the 2017-18 school year. We felt that the increase was a reasonable and appropriate step as some area directors currently have responsibility for more than 50 schools. With our new seven-area structure, each area director will have responsibility for approximately 34 schools. We believe that this is the maximum realistic ratio of schools to area director in order to provide timely, relevant and coordinated support to our schools. By any measure the CBE is administratively lean and organizationally flat.
 
Over the last several years of great enrolment growth, the number of staff in service units (that is, outside of school-based staff) has remained flat. However, the number of school-based staff has increased to keep pace with enrolment growth. This is reflective of our commitment to ensure that the maximum dollars available are directed to our schools. We are continually seeking ways to do more with less in order to ensure we can support students and staff in our schools.
 
Please see Where does school funding go? for a detailed explanation of how dollars are spent to support the classroom. You’ll see that 72 per cent of our funding goes directly to the classroom, with the remaining 28 per cent going to support the classroom.
The Government of Alberta allows metro school divisions like the CBE to spend up to 3.6 per cent of its total expenditures on board and system administration. At the CBE we only spend 2.7 per cent. That means that an additional $11.8 million is available to support students and staff in the classrooms.
 
Once again, thank you for your input into our budget process and I hope that this information is of some value to you.
 
Brad (Chief Financial Officer, CBE)
 
 

 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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