Making decisions that can affect many people is tough at the best of times but for the Board of Trustees of the Rocky View School (RVS) Division, making them during a pandemic makes it even more difficult.
As they continue to wonder just what school will look like come the fall, whether there will be a need for transportation to schools, or if community users will be allowed to rent school facilities, at their meeting last week the board was called upon to vote on increasing transportation fees and will also be asking some community groups to pay more to rent division schools. Along with that they also voted on what school fees would be charged in the 2020-2021 school year.
For the first time in many years, Alberta Education is increasing transportation grants to school boards by five percent. The intent of the increase is to cover inflation and pressure associated with student growth, which for RVS has been massive over the past few years. However, Board Chair Fiona Gilbert says because transportation grants have not kept up with costs for the past 10 years, the increase will only cover some of the increases that RVS has experienced. As well, the increase is to cover the next two years.
In the end, the board voted to approve an increase in the range of 21 percent for all students in grades 1 - 12, moving from $308 a year to $375 for the first two students in a family. Any additional family members will be charged $187.50 to ride the bus.
Gilbert says she hopes the increase will build in some contingency for the division. "By keeping service levels the same, continuing to maximize our routes as much as we can that that will give us, I don't want to use the word surplus, but a little bit of a contingency for the transportation budget for this year, expecting that we're going to use it up next year and not wanting to increase fees again."
When it came to the subject of school fees that are charged, the board instructed the school superintendent to ask schools to do their best to not increase option course fees. "So those are the fees you might pay for band or foods or photography and those kinds of things, particularly at the middle and high school levels," Gilbert explains. "Direction was to not increase those fees. Keep them where they'd at."
Other directions given by the board included
- subsidize extracurricular, field trip and non-curricular travel with other funds;
- increase existing course fees;
- implement school-wide fees would be allowed, including K-4 school supply fee;
- charge Christian and French Immersion program fees;
- add alternative program fees for programs like the Farm or Building Futures;
- implement a Sports Academies fee without consultations across all schools that utilize that program. The fee for will involve input from the external provider and all schools that offer the program.
Schools were to have their fee submissions in by April 30th. Some of the significant changes from prior year fee listings include:
- Implementation of 104 new option courses being offered at the Middle and High school level. No increases were allowed to existing option course fees this year.
- Elimination of lunch supervision fees. This impacts 6 schools. Only lunch supervision fees that are in relation to club/activity fees over the lunch hour will remain in place.
- Addition of 62 new Activity fees with increases in existing fees ranging from 0% to 400% to reflect actual costs of the activity without subsidization from the schools operating budget and/or Society monies.
- Update Extracurricular Fees for increases primarily due to increases in plug-in fees and tournament costs for sports. Increases range from 0% to 257%.
- Contain 14 new Extracurricular Fees.
Community Use Fees:
The discussion about what schools would charge community groups to use their facilities was a difficult one for some trustees. Gilbert says it is hard to balance being a partner in the community with not subsidizing groups who make use of the schools, something RVS has been doing for years.
"Rocky View Schools wants to be considered a member of the community and we want our facilities to be available for community use, absolutely," she insists. "The flip side of that is there are additional costs that we bear for having our schools open outside of regular school hours. Those are costs of additional supervision, additional cleaning, wear and tear on the buildings, the electricity, all of those kinds of things. What we're trying to do is find a balance between the two. We want schools to be available to community users, we also need to make sure that we're not subsidizing that community use by using instructional dollars."
The trustees finally agreed to implement a change fee for if a community group wishes to change the date, time or location after the event has been approved and to introduce a possible fee waiver through the Associate Superintendent of Business Operations on a case by case basis.
They also approved a fee increase for renting certain spaces for registered youth-oriented and adult groups and private groups. Profit-making groups are not allowed to rent RVS facilities.