By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on May 25, 2022.
The focus was on enrolment as Medicine Hat Public School Division board trustees unanimously approved the division’s 2022-23 budget and plan Tuesday.
Declining enrolment offset increases in funding from the provincial government, resulting in a balanced budget, MHPSD superintendent Mark Davidson says.
“We’ve long known we are entering a period of declining enrolment, based on demographic data shared with us by workforce planning, which is a branch of the Government of Alberta,” Davidson told the News.
Division enrolment began declining in the 2019-20 academic year and is predicted to continue declining for the next 10 years. Between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, a decline of 56 students is expected.
Davidson is thankful for continued funding by the provincial government – called hold harmless funding – to address such declines.
“Hold harmless funding has been distributed to a significant number of boards across the province to address declining or unusual enrolment patterns, which came about as a result of COVID (and) demographic trends,” said Davidson. “We feel very fortunate the Government of Alberta has noted the challenges created by COVID and the challenges of communities which have that kind of decline in overall demographics. It allows us to be thoughtful and to plan ahead for productions and staff in a manner which doesn’t impact student programming negatively.”
The division is also set to receive grant increases for operations/maintenance and transportation expenses – both of which saw an increase of more than 14 per cent in the past year.
While Davidson says there will be little change in terms of staffing and program numbers, additional funding will be directed toward social and emotional supports for students.
“We will see almost no change in the number of staff who serve students, and no decline in services or programming to students,” he said. “But one of the things we’re using the balanced budget to do, is to actually increase our staffing in the provision of social and emotional supports for young people. And commit to ensuring all of our teachers and instructional staff gain an understanding throughout the next year of trauma-informed practice, so they can support students and help them stabilize for learning.”
The investment comes as part of the division’s commitment to student and educator wellness, as outlined in the 2022-23 education plan, which was also unanimously approved by board trustees Tuesday.
As well as student and educator wellness, the division’s education plan cites optimal learning, truth and reconciliation and inclusivity – including a commitment to First Nations, MÃ©tis and Inuit integrated learning – as universal goals.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to engage with our community, students and staff in order to develop our education plan,” Davidson said. “And I’m equally proud of the work we’ve done to build a budget which is completely focused on making sure we achieve the goals set out in that education plan.”