'There will be cuts in the classroom' due to budget, says Sask. Teachers' Federation

The Saskatchewan government wants a leaner kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system, but it has decided it is not going to eliminate elected school boards as part of the cost cutting.

Schools will receive $22M less in operating funds this year

Some parents, especially with those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, say they have grave concerns about the province's shift in policy. (CBC News)

The Saskatchewan government wants a leaner kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system, but it has decided it is not going to eliminate elected school boards as part of the cost cutting.

The budget day announcement puts to rest months of unease in educational circles that a major amalgamation was possible.

Instead, the government says elected school boards are here to stay and there will be no major school division boundary changes.

The decision follows the recommendation of the final report from the Advisory Panel on Education Governance Renewal, which was released Wednesday.

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said MLAs had been consistently approached by their constituents demanding school boards remain as they are, but acknowledged there was room to improve efficiencies if boards were amalgamated. 

Changes to Education Act

Changes will be made to the Education Act, Doherty said. The changes will allow Education Minister Don Morgan to provide direction and decision making within school divisions.

Administration and payroll will be affected by the changes.

"The minister of education will have the ability to say, 'We're not going to pay outrageous salaries any more,'" Doherty said in reference to school board trustees.

Morgan said there were conditions imposed in order to retain the elected school boards. 

"We expect them to manage funding, so we are going to direct some things they are going to do," the education minister said.

The number of administrators and salaries for trustees will be limited.

"The idea should be — and always should've been — that we commit to resources in the classroom," Morgan said.

The finance minister said Morgan would also be able to make decisions on issues like the purchase of buses for school divisions, for example.

"Why can't we buy buses from the same bus company?" Doherty asked. 

Morgan said efficiencies could be found in common busing, common procurement and reducing travel.

He also said recording equipment should be present in the boardroom when school boards meet.

"We have it here. There's no reason why it shouldn't be there," Morgan said. "They are publicly funded and ought to be held to the same level of scrutiny that MLAs or MPs are."

Controlling spending

While the status quo will remain when it comes to the number of school boards, the government also says it wants to control spending in the education sector.

The budget says Saskatchewan's pre-kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system will receive $1.86 billion in school operating money in 2017-18, which is $22 million less than the previous fiscal year.

The funding cut drew stern criticism from the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, accusing the government of washing their hands of any potential fallout from future decisions. 

"We're already at the bare bones. There's no way to escape it. There will be cuts in the classroom," said federation president Patrick Maze.

Meanwhile, the province has also announced higher education property taxes.

According to budget documents, property tax revenues on residential properties will go up 10.6 per cent this year.