NDP calls for more funding as school divisions facing budget crunch cut teaching positions

Ryan Meili speaks at an education town hall held in Prince Albert on Oct. 28, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The Saskatchewan NDP is expressing dismay after news broke this week that school boards are reducing the number of teachers on staff to address budget cuts.

The NDP said in a press release that school boards are taking “drastic steps” in the lead-up to budgets due to the ministry of education on June 30.

“I continue to hear from school boards, teachers and parents every day, concerned about what these cuts mean for kids going back to school in the fall,” said Education Critic Carla Beck. “The Sask. Party promised that no cuts to education would be made during the last election, then immediately turned around and passed a budget that starved school divisions into making these difficult choices.”

The NDP press release cited news that the Regina Catholic division is modifying bus routes, Prairie Valley is cutting 36 jobs and the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division announced it is eliminating 25 teaching positions by not replacing departing staff.

The NDP also cited a finding from the provincial auditor that one in five kids are not ready for Grade 1, and supports for children with intensive needs are lacking.

Sask. Rivers education director Robert Bratvold said  this week future enrollment numbers will determine how soon those positions are filled. Another three educational assistant positions will also remain vacant.

The division needed to remove more than $2-million in spending commitments, largely due to grant losses that will carry over into the next fiscal year. Bratvold said staff and program reductions are two of the ways they’re looking to accomplish that goal.

“We are required to have a balanced budget,” Bratvold said during an interview on Tuesday. “We’re only assured of a certain level of funding, so we’ve had to reduce our budget.”

Chief Financial Officer Jerrold Pidborochynski presented the budget during Monday’s school board meeting. He told trustees they expect to see a $1.2-million reduction in grant funding for the next fiscal year. Grants account for roughly 82 per cent of the school division’s revenue.

The province increased education spending in the 2021-22 budget. The $19.2 million increase, the government said, includes a fully-funded two per cent negotiated salary increase. The NDP says the teachers’ salary increase alone amounts to $23 million, arguing that the budget actually represents a decrease in overall education funding.

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association said other inflationary costs are not covered by the province’s increase, leaving school divisions with difficult decisions..

On Friday, the NDP called on the province to provide additional funding to meet the current needs coming out of the pandemic and to create a three-year COVID-19 recovery plan for students and schools

— With files from Jason Kerr