City’s public schools face financial crunch as costs for utilities, insurance rise

  • Edmonton Journal

  • 18 May 2022

  • MATTHEW BLACK Twitter: @Bymatthewblack

Edmonton’s public school division is facing a cost crunch as it faces rising utility and insurance costs while also projecting enrolment to rise next year.

A report outlining the cost increases was presented to trustees at Tuesday’s Edmonton Public Schools board of trustees meeting.

“We as a division are expected to do more with precipitously less and that is going to be a challenge in the coming years,” said Edmonton Public Schools trustee Nathan Ip.

“Our costs are going up.”

The data shows the cost of insurance, water, natural gas and electricity have all significantly increased.

The largest five-year increase was in insurance costs, which rose by 151 per cent, to $5.44 million from $2,17 million in 2015-16.

Smaller, but still notable, increases were recorded over the past five years in the costs of natural gas (26.6 per cent), electricity (22.7 per cent) and sewer and water (9.5 per cent).

Over a one-year term, insurance costs grew by more than $1.6 million while the costs of natural gas and electricity grew by $377,000 and $765,000 respectively.

Some savings were found in telecom costs, though they also increased over the prior 12 months, up to $418,000 from $346,000.

Edmonton Public Schools is also projecting a funding shortfall for nearly 1,700 students in the upcoming school year with actual enrolment expected to outpace projected enrolment by 1,692 students next year.

Ip said he hoped the cost and enrolment data would be a “wakeup call” for the province to boost funding to help offset rising costs and enrolments.

“This will have an impact on student learning over time,” he said.

“We’re not being adequately resourced.”

The province’s education ministry said Edmonton Public Schools’ operational funding is expected to increase by $10.8 million.

“It’s also important to note that EPSB reported $37.5 million in operating reserves and $44.8 million in capital reserves at the end of the 2020-21 school year,” wrote education ministry spokeswoman Katherine Stavropoulos in an email.

Mounting inflation rates in recent years further exacerbate the board’s balance sheet.

We as a division are expected to do more with precipitously less and that is going to be a challenge in the coming years. Our costs are going up.

Using figures from Statistics Canada, Edmonton Public Schools determined Edmonton’s annual inflation rate for 2021 stood at 4.3 per cent, the highest in nearly two decades and well above the 1.5-percent mark recorded in 2020.

The division says inflation has hit its operation and maintenance budget hardest, forcing it to spend more there and fewer dollars on instruction.