We understand that these are challenging times for the province and that we all need to tighten our belts. We are prepared to do our part. I must say, however, it is generally easier for people to accept change if that change is perceived as fair and equitable.
So let’s chat about what we are being asked to accept.
How has this most recent budget effected small private schools? Before we “put a face to the budget cuts”, I think the reader may require some background information.
According to AISCA, the Association of Independent schools and colleges in Alberta, approximately 4% of students attend private schools . These schools must meet equivalent public standards of accountability.
How did this come to be? Private schools receive no capital funding from the province. As such, we provide our own buildings, heat and light. We clean and maintain these buildings ourselves. We paint them, we renovate them and we furnish them all without any assistance from the province or the public purse. That’s right, parents like me have helped raise the millions of dollars needed to build a school. We tirelessly work bingos and casinos. We hold work bees, we volunteered to paint walls, we donated tables and chairs, we put up bonds and so much more!
Several years ago, private schools most of which are small, single school operations, were offered plant, operation and maintenance (POM) funding in exchange for accepting a higher level of accountability. In other words, we gave up some of our hard-earn independent for stability. Almost all private schools in the province have now come to sign this agreement.
Which means, we now operate under exactly the same standards and expectations as any public school and we incur the same expenses! So the province agreed to assist with “keeping the lights on and maintaining the heat” so to speak.
It’s all in the spin!
When the budget was announced, the government reported that funding for private schools had gone up and that they were cutting POM funding to align with the fact that we receive no capital funding from the province. (Yes, we still provide our own land, building and furniture!) But now, we get no assistance!
So how can they say funding for the private schools went up? It was reported that the total dollars allocated to private schools increased. This is because MORE parents are choosing private education for their children. Perhaps this is due to the uniqueness of programs offered or the increased supports for special needs students – it does not matter. The point is, private schools are now educating more kids with significantly less support. Our actual per student funding was cut dramatically!
If we were to use the same “spin”, then we should be saying the public system also got a huge bump in funding. After all their student numbers will go up this year too due to increased migration to the province (same as us) but their per student funding basically stayed the exact same!
That’s not fair or equitable!
AISCA reports that private schools will loose between 8-15 % of their total budget. For the Phoenix Foundation this means $120,000 per year or 12% of our overall budget.
What does $120,000 dollars buy . . . Well, let’s see . . . We maintain a 15,000 square foot building. (Small and meager compared to public standards but it serves over 200 students and their families) It costs us approximately $2000 a month for gas and about $1000 a month for electricity. That means it costs our non-profit charity more than $40,000 each year for just heat and light. Then there is cleaning and general maintenance, water, internet, toilet paper (let me tell you, kids use a lot!), replacing 20 year old carpet, replacing old florescent fixtures, maintaining the parking lot, garbage pick up, snow removal (cause it never snows in Calgary!) and so on!
All that and more before we even get down to the business of educating students. And that’s nothing! Most of the private schools pay more.
Here comes the tuition fee.
Even with POM funding, private schools only used to receive %32 of the funding a public school gets. The rest comes from tuition. Did you know it costs the public purse about $15,000 to send the average kid to school each year? Privates get about $6000 from the province and charge on average about $6500 tuition.
Oh sure, there are some that charge a lot more but there are also some that charge none! That’s right folks – none! How do I know this . . . Well, we are one of those private schools who do not charge tuition!
So now that we are getting a lot less, how will shortfall covered? It will have to borne by the volunteers, staff and parents of the Foundation! It will mean we are asking more from our caring volunteers, more from our dedicated staff and more from our committed parents. But we will survive!
Some small private schools, however, will not! This means there is a little less choice, a little less freedom and a little less for public education at the end of the day.
What? You heard me . . . FOR EVERY KID THAT LEAVES A PRIVATE SCHOOL, you dear tax payer, are going to have to cough up another $9000 bucks every year! And when you discover that your unique child does not quite fit the cookie cutter system . . . You won’t have as many options left!
This is the new face of things to come!