There are more teachers and support staff in Grande Prairie and District Catholic School classrooms this year. That’s thanks to a dip into reserve funds and temporary spending cuts approved for its 2018-2019 budget.

The school district is using $650,000 from its reserves and $650,000 from the Alberta Education Classroom Initiative Fund to add roughly 20 teachers and increase educational assistants by about 13 per cent. Superintendent Karl Germann says it is also upping its budget for support staff by $418,000 and majorly cutting its technology budget for one year only.

“We certainly wanted to make sure we had more teachers in classrooms. Although we’re experiencing growth, we also want to make sure that we try to lower classroom sizes overall and make sure we’re providing additional classroom supports.”

The extra funding is meant to be a one time fix, and still leaves the district with deficits in two departments. Transportation is underfunded by $550,000, while the budget for plant operation and maintenance is down by $1.5 million. Germann says the latter is partly due to the cost of operating the new St. John Paul II High School, as well as the carbon tax.

“We got the carbon levy put on us even though we use wind power, so that’s another piece that’s causing us a little bit of grief for costs, as well as when you open a new school the province doesn’t give you any more money to run that building, so then you have to find that money internally.”

Germann notes the utilities of SJPII cost $180,000 a year alone. The Catholic School District, along with Holy Family Catholic Regional Division and High Prairie School Division, has been powered by wind energy since early 2016.

“We’re part of a consortium of a lot of school boards that went together to purchase wind power and it’s a good value over a long period of time, but [the carbon tax] is still being levied on us.”

Several infrastructure projects are still in the works for the school division, including the modernization of St. Kateri and St. Patrick Schools to be done by 2019 and 2020, and the construction of O’Brien Lake West School by 2021.

“We’re trying to just be fiscally prudent and make sure we look at what is the best thing that we can do to make sure that we maintain our costs and control our costs,” Germann adds.

The superintendent hopes to be able to build up the district’s reserves again, as well as to see more funding for transportation, plant operation and maintenance, and mental health services from the province. He says they’ll be advocating the different political parties heading into the 2019 provincial election.