School boards will see no funding increase to operations in Budget 2013 and that means tough decisions ahead, including the possibility of layoffs.
"It could mean that, definitely. We're just going to have to take a whole new approach to our budgeting in the fall," said Sandra Dufresne, chairwoman of the Holy Spirit Catholic school board. "What this budget brings to us means a change in the face of our classrooms and our schools. . . there'll be some tough decisions."
School divisions face increasing costs of operating and salary grid increases will cost Holy Spirit almost $300,000 alone.
"At the end of the day a zero per cent increase means a cut because we have expenses going up," Dufresne said.
Lethbridge public school board chairman Mich Forster agreed some hard decisions are ahead although he said it could have been worse. Details haven't been finalized yet and until more specific information is available Forster couldn't speculate whether layoffs would occur.
"We're hoping that will not happen and we'll do everything we can to avoid it," he said.
The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), established in 1999 to promote innovation in schools, is being cut as of April 1. The budget contained two per cent increases to address class size in kindergarten to Grade 3 and for inclusive education. Funding for some work experience high school programs was cut, as was the transportation fuels subsidy.
"I guess the good news is the commitment to capital spending for schools," Dufresne said.
Budget 2013 provides $500 million for 50 new schools and 70 school modernizations but whether any local projects will be funded isn't known yet. Specific projects will be announced later in the spring.
On the post-secondary education front, the good news is that Lethbridge College's Trades renewal project is still on the government's radar.
"What we do know is that they have still identified our Trades and Technology Renewal and Innovation project as an infrastructure priority," said Paula Burns, Lethbridge College president. "There's still not total clarity on what that means."
Universities and colleges are facing nearly a seven per cent cut to their operating funding.
"It's going to create some challenges for the U of L," said Mike Mahon, U of L president. "It's a fairly dramatic reduction for us."
Mahon said the U of L will focus on its priorities and that means students, maintaining as much as possible its work force and looking for synergies with other universities in the province.
"At the end of the day we will focus on making the U of L the best institution we can but we'll have to do it within a constrained budget," he said.
Lethbridge College Students' Association president Dillon Hargreaves said the loss in funding won't come on students' back, at least not this year, as the tuition framework hasn't changed. Student leaders are disappointed the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) was cut in the budget. STEP provided matching funds to employers for summer jobs.
"It's really disheartening for us at this point," he said.