Finance minister says school boards may need to lay workers off

Saskatchewan school boards are being told to cut wages or benefits for employees by 3.5 per cent and freeze those rates for three more years.

Letter demands pay cut, 3-year salary freeze

The Regina Catholic School Board recently announced it was cutting back resources to the speech-language program to balance the 2019-2020 budget. (CBC News)

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty says school boards in Saskatchewan may need to lay people off if they can't find other ways to reduce employee compensation.

The provincial government has ordered the boards to cut wages or benefits for employees by 3.5 per cent and freeze those rates for three more years.

A letter sent from deputy education minister Julie MacRae to school division board chairs says the cost savings required can't be achieved through further reductions in staff.

However, on Monday afternoon, the finance minister said layoffs might be required by school boards.

"They'll have to try and find some savings within their budgets and if layoffs are part of that, then layoffs would be part of that — we're not taking that off the table at all," Doherty said.

Difficult to imagine how, says association

In reaction, school boards said they have no idea how they are going to comply with the latest dictate from the provincial government.

Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said that the government seems to have preserved elected school boards in name only.

"It seems like there's a chance that they're conveniently leaving us in place to take blame for things without really pulling the strings," Davidson said.

"It really speaks to the government trying to dictate to boards how to do business."

Davidson added that boards do not intend to break contracts that have already been negotiated — some of which do not expire for several years.

The government says it is not asking boards to break contracts, but rather to encourage unions to return to the bargaining table to look for cuts to compensation. 

The current agreement for more than 13,000 teachers expires at the end of August and negotiations for a new one are to begin in May.

Bargaining with teachers happens provincially for such things as salaries and sick leave, but individual school boards are responsible for local contracts governing many other aspects of the job. 

Boards each also negotiate contracts with other educational support staff.

The cuts come as the Saskatchewan government tries to tackle a $1.3-billion deficit with a plan to get it down to $685 million in the year ahead.

With files from Stefani Langenegger