French-language schools millions of dollars in debt

Officials from the Ministry of Education plan to meet with the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises, Saskatchewan's French-language school board, Wednesday morning.

Ministry of Education says French-language school board has maxed out its credit line

Don Morgan is Saskatchewan's Minister of Education. (CBC News)

Saskatchewan's French schools are having serious money problems.

Recently, Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CÉF), the province's French-language school board, advised teachers it might not be able to pay them on time.

The situation set off alarm bells throughout the Ministry of Education and Minister of Education Don Morgan says the French school board has maxed out its credit line and owes millions of dollars.

"I'm not prepared to have teachers go unpaid," Morgan said. "It is not an acceptable thing in our province, to have someone who works in the public sector not receiving a paycheck. You can't leave people where they can't make a mortgage payment, can't buy groceries, that just can't happen."

The French school board did end up making the payroll deadline. However, Minister Morgan told CBC News that officials at the Ministry of Education are on stand-by, just in case the CÉF can not pay its employees. 

Morgan said his office also plans to work with the French school board and review its books in order to identify where money is currently being spent, what the priorities need to be and what needs to change, so that "budgets can come back into line".

Economies of scale

Saskatchewan has 11 French-language schools under CÉF's jurisdiction and their costs are significantly higher than those of others schools.

For example, the provincial per student expenditure average is $10,981, compared with $19,831 per student at the province`s French-language schools.

The 2014 provincial budget for Saskatchewan's 28 school divisions was $1.8 billion, with CÉF`s schools reporting some of the smallest populations.

Minister Morgan said that while he does not expect French schools to meet the provincial average, he does think there should be "some significant room for them to find economies or do things differently".

A plan is needed

An exact dollar figure of how much debt the province's French-language schools owe has not been released.

Minister Morgan stated that the Ministry of Education currently has no budgetary agreement with the French school board and that in the past there has been problems with CÉF not meeting budgetary targets.

Morgan said he believes the French school board owes millions in debt that "accumulated over time", but told CBC News/Radio Canada that questions about the exact amount of debt the CÉF owes "need to put to them".

In the meantime Morgan said the Ministry of Education will work with the French school board to find a way to help it cut costs in order to pay utilities bills, insurance bills, transportation costs and payroll. 

Minister Morgan said he and officials from the Ministry will meet with the CÉF Wednesday morning.

CÉF officials have declined CBC News/Radio Canada`s multiple requests for an interview.


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