Saskatoon Public, Catholic Schools warning parents about budget shortfalls

Some school divisions across Saskatchewan say they will be looking for ways to save money — such as reducing staff — as they look ahead to the 2022-23 school year.

Regina Catholic, Good Spirit school divisions also considering cuts

Both Saskatoon public and Catholic school divisions are warning parents about budget shortfalls next year. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The Saskatoon Public School Division and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools say they will be looking for ways to save money as they look ahead to the 2022-23 school year.

On Wednesday, the two divisions sent letters to parents, stating that the 1.5 per cent increase they will be receiving from this year's provincial budget will not be enough to deal with increasing expenses.

"To balance the budget, we will once again need to make some reductions across the school division," wrote Saskatoon Public Schools board chair Colleen MacPherson.

"Our priority remains protecting the classroom. However, after another difficult provincial budget, all aspects of our operation will be affected, even the school experience for our children."

In the letter, MacPherson wrote that the increase from the provincial government will total $5 million this year. However, most of that money will cover salary increases from teachers, which were negotiated during the last round of collective bargaining.

In total, the letter estimates other costs, including increases in natural gas, additional contributions to the Canada Pension Plan and wage increases for teachers with less than 10 years of service will create a shortfall of more than $4 million.

Last year, Saskatoon Public Schools said it ran into an $8-million shortfall, which it said was the result of underfunding from the provincial government.

For its part, the Catholic school division said it expects an increase of 400 students in the next school year and is expecting a $2-million shortfall.

"This is disheartening, to say the least," wrote Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board chair Diane Boyko.

"Especially when we all know that additional post-pandemic funds will be needed to re-engage students and offer appropriate mental health and wellness supports."

The Catholic school division said it planned to reassign staff to maintain classroom service levels. However, it said a significant realignment it made to classrooms five years ago after budget cuts will make it very challenging to repeat the process.

"The butter can only be spread so thin on the bread, as the saying goes," wrote Boyko.

Last week, the Chinook School Division sent out a similar letter to parents, stating that it would have to cut 20 teaching positions due to shortfalls stemming from the provincial budget.

Both Saskatoon public and Catholic school divisions said they are both working on their budget for the next school year, which are both expected to be finalized in June.

Other school divisions likely to reduce staff

As it works to develop its 2022-23 budget, the Regina Catholic School Division says it expects it will have some "difficult decisions to make."

While the provincial budget includes the already negotiated salary increases for teachers, Regina Catholic told CBC News in an emailed statement that it doesn't account for non-teaching staff or inflation.

"Our slight decrease in student enrolment projections will be accounted for in the budget with a corresponding reduction in overall staffing," division spokesperson Twylla West wrote.

"We will focus initial budget efforts in areas that will not impact the classroom."

Regina Public Schools declined to comment on its plans until its budget is finalized either later this month or next.

The Prairie Valley School Division — which covers rural areas around Regina — says it's expecting an increase in enrolment in the 2022-23 school year.

While Prairie Valley didn't allude to any upcoming staffing cuts, it did say it's concerned about inflationary increases in operating costs and fuel.

"Prairie Valley runs 150 bus routes a day, covering 27,000 kilometres. Rising fuel costs are likely going to eat away at the bottom line," said spokesperson Ian Hanna.

In the east-central part of the province, Quintin Robertson, the director of education for the Good Spirit School Division, says his schools will be "strategically utilizing reserves and continuing to look for efficiencies."

With an 0.83 per cent increase in funding from the recent provincial budget, Robertson said Good Spirit's known expenditures "far exceed" the roughly $580,000 in additional funding.

"Reductions in staff will certainly be on the table. We have committed not to reduce permanent staff members," Robertson wrote in an email to CBC News, noting Good Spirit will likely prioritize professional and paraprofessional staffing. 

He added that the school division is currently gathering stakeholder feedback, which it plans to present to school administrators and community councils next week.

With files from Jessie Anton and David Shield