Sask. school division says province ‘skews the numbers’ on education funding

Sask.  school division says province ‘skews the numbers’ on education funding

Education funding has been a highly debated topic in Saskatchewan, and one school division took the time to fact-check the province’s claims, addressing their repeated message of “record funding.”

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) sent a message to parents and caregivers saying they’ve been reviewing the provincial funding since it was announced in March.

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“Our initial optimism faded when faced with the reality that school divisions in Saskatchewan—and therefore the students and families we serve—would not benefit from the province’s good financial fortune,” read the letter.

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The province claims that education funding is increasing by 6.7 per cent, but GSCS noted that funding includes money for libraries, early learning and child care, adding that the Government of Canada gave a significant investment for child care through a provincial and federal partnership.

“That’s great news! But it skews the numbers for education quite a bit,” read the letter.

GCSCS said that kindergarten to Grade 12 funding increased 2.5 per cent, but stressed that number from the province includes money that was already distributed to schools: “$15.5 million in the summer of 2022 for inflationary increases to insurance and transportation, and $20 million in November 2022 to accommodate higher than expected student enrollment across the provinces.

“That leaves $13.9 million of actual new money—or 0.7 per cent—for 2023-24. That’s for all 27 school divisions.”

The letter also addressed Premier Scott Moe’s message on May 1 claiming that he heard people’s concerns about school funding and that more would be on the way.

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“We are encouraged by these words. However, there is no detail on how much money will be provided nor when it will be given to school divisions. This uncertainty makes our planning very difficult.”

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GSCS said it would get $4.7 million for the projected growth of 700 more students, but said there was no money to address inflationary costs, or for negotiated salary increases for non-teaching staff.

“We will not accept any money to address increased costs as a result of inflation (utilities, transportation, insurance, CPP and EI increases, etc.), and there is no money for negotiated salary increases for non-teaching staff who, just like you, face inflationary pressures at home. (The government has stated they will cover negotiated increases for teachers after their bargaining conclusions.)”

GCSS also noted they are receiving less money per student than in 2015-16, putting together a chart showing the trend.

A chart by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools comparing the per-student funding in the province.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools

The school division said that if they ran the current level of programming for 2023-24, they would face a $1.5 million deficit.

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It added that a balanced budget is required by the Ministry of Education by June 30, 2023.

“We do not have the luxury to wait until the fall for the possibility of additional funding. We must make difficult decisions now.”

A list of steps to balance the budget was given by GCSCS, which included things like eliminating librarian positions and reducing school bus numbers, raising the elementary school lunch supervision fee to $100 a year per student from $70, implementing a high school lunch supervision fee of $25 a year per student, and the elimination of several other services for students.

“Children and youth deserve better.”

GCSCS Board Chair Diane Boyko said the reception from parents and caregivers to the letter has been a positive one.

“We’ve prided ourselves on ensuring the information is out there to share with our community,” Boyko said.

She said GCS is in a position where it serves the community, so they have a responsibility to be truthful about what their circumstances are.

She said talks revolving around the solutions to balance the budget, whether it be program cuts or cost recovery in other areas, is not an easy conversation to have.

Boyko said having a large number of new students enrolling into schools is a good problem to have, but they still haven’t received funding for many of them.

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“We just need the support that would allow us to give all of those students what they deserve.”

She said their board members previously prided themselves on keeping cuts away from the classroom, but now find it impossible.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of Education and received a statement.

The statement reiterated the same numbers the Sask. The party government emphasized during the budget, claiming they provided “a record investment of $3.1 billion, an increase of $192.8 million or 6.7 per cent over last year” for schools.

Among the same, rehashed numbers, the ministry said it has been meeting with school divisions to discuss funding and enrollment concerns.

While there were no numbers for what the promised increase would look like, or an exact time of when the schools would be notified, the provinces that did mention the schools would find out before the budgets needed to be submitted.

“School divisions will be notified in the coming weeks of the additional funding and provided with additional time to prepare their 2023-24 budgets.”

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