The Foothills School Division (FSD) is among the many Alberta school divisions dealing with budget constraints.

They were included in a release from the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) stating that 24 Alberta school divisions will be cutting funding to teaching positions for the 2024-2025 school year.

The division with the highest number of cuts was Red Deer Catholic with 90.6 fewer full-time equivalent positions, whereas FSD was shown to have cut 13.3 full-time positions in next year's budget.

According to FSD, the figure is fairly accurate, and Superintendent Chris Fuzessy estimates that would translate to about 0.5 full-time equivalent teacher positions per school.

While the ATA media release stresses that many divisions are having to make these cuts amid increased student enrollment, the Foothills School Division is expected to see decreased enrollment for the 2024-2025 year, which would be the second in a row.

Assistant School Superintendent Drew Chipman says the combination of decreased funding due to lower enrollment and the pressure of inflation have made for a tough budget year.

"When the grants from Alberta Education stay the same, which they are projected to and will do for next year, that eats away at what we're able to spend just to keep up with inflation. Contracts, software contracts, custodial, all those pieces also eat into our budget, so while enrollment decline is certainly a big part of it, so is inflation."

The division is running a deficit in this year's budget, as they have done for the last several.

It's gradually clawed away at their operating reserves as well as their capital reserves, which they've had to transfer into operating reserves in recent years.

"There is a constraint on having a maximum amount of reserves and a minimum amount of reserves. We are in between those two numbers but because we're a lot closer to the minimum, we don't have an ability to use significant dollars in reserves. We've done that over the last seven years, we've used reserves to enhance our offerings and what we're able to provide and to hire staff. We're at the end of that cycle because we've gotten our reserve dollars down closer to the minimum. At this point, while we're running a deficit budget for next year, really it's the last time we'll be able to do that and the number is certainly not anywhere as significant as we've been able to do in the past," explains Chipman.

FSD has heard from several other school divisions struggling with budgetary constraints, some of which have seen a decrease in enrollment like FSD, and others that are seeing increased student intake.

Divisions that have seen increased enrolment have especially been struggling with the province's three-year weighted average funding formula, says Fuzessy.

"It's three years before you're fully funded for a student who joins your school division. Well, we still have the responsibility, of course, to provide optimal servicing and programming for them from the moment they join. The weighted moving average, we continue to live with and learn about. A return to a per capita student funding formula would certainly alleviate increasing enrollment but may make decreasing enrollment challenging for boards that are in our position."

While FSD is dealing with a tough budget year, Fuzessy wants to assure Foothills parents that they're working hard to minimize the impacts on their learning environments.

"Despite the budget cuts, our schools are providing high-quality programming. There are teachers in every classroom, we continue to achieve the goals we have in our ed plan by increasing numeracy, literacy, innovation, and design and providing great experiences for kids both from an academic standpoint as well as taking part in field trips and extracurricular activities. What would the end result be after all of these budget cuts? Unfortunately, slightly increased class sizes across the division. Having said that, we're in a better position overall than many school divisions across the province in terms of class size."