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Saskatoon school division 'can't even do a status quo budget' with current provincial funding

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In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s provincial budget, school divisions in Saskatchewan were expecting funding levels to increase, with the province repeatedly touting its $1 billion surplus.

Instead, divisions are left drawing up another lean budget, which could affect what schools in Saskatchewan are able to do.

"When you have a billion dollar surplus, when is a good time to reinvest in education," Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board chair Diane Boyko said.

The separate school division is one of the 27 divisions in the province, which will receive $2.04 billion overall in operational funding for the 2023-2024 school year, up $49.4 million from the $1.99 billion investment in last year’s budget.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools chief financial officer Joel Lloyd says much of that money has already been allocated in this current fiscal year. He says $15 million was divvied out last December with a number of schools exceeding enrollment projections, on top of $20 million received last summer to address inflationary pressures.

That leaves less than $15 million for every school division in the province.

"In the last number of years we've attempted to have just a status quo budget and add resources for growth," he said. "But the last two years we've seen an erosion of that where we can't even do a status quo budget anymore."

Other school divisions in the province aren't expected to fair much better.

"Boards have been calling for investment in education for a very long time. We're looking forward to the kind of budget that provides sustainable, predictable and sufficient funding for education in this province," Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Jaimie Smith-Windsor said at the legislature Wednesday.

"This budget contributes to the erosion of the publicly funded system that we have."

On Wednesday, the education minister said the budget for the 2023-2024 school year largely addresses inflationary pressures and the enrollment increase seen over the last year, however more money can be allocated depending on a school board's needs. According to the province, there are over 189,000 registered students in Saskatchewan’s K-12 school system.

"School divisions now have over $2 billion in operating for the first time ever," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing what they do with their budgets now."

Boyko and Lloyd say not much will be done with the money they're receiving. Lloyd said the money the division will receive is projected to be $3.9 million more than last year, and most of that money will go towards hiring new teachers.

"We're welcoming 1,600 more students than we had last school year and the majority of those students are new to Canada," Lloyd said.

Boyko said 1,600 students would normally fill five to six new schools that aren't being built this year.

"We're probably going to be close to that $1.4 to $1.5 million shortfall, and so that is a huge concern for us," she said.

"You're trying to offer the same kind of programs that you have [in the past] -- it's an impossible task almost."

In an ideal scenario, Boyko and Lloyd would have preferred twice the amount of money presented in Wednesday's budget. Boyko wouldn't say if any additional fees will be passed on to parents, but the board will have plenty to think about when it begins finalizing its budget later this year.

"Everything is going to be on the table at this point," Boyko said.  

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