Saskatchewan Rivers not surprised by education budget

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division saw no surprises in the education portion of the Provincial Budget announced Tuesday in the Legislature. According to director of education Robert Bratvold the education budget was as the division anticipated.

“It recognizes that there are fiscal challenges and implications. Locally it was pretty well exactly what we got last year plus an increase to account for the payment for teacher’s collective bargaining salary increase,” Bratvold said.

According to the province’s release Tuesday, the 27 school divisions will receive $1.96 billion in school operating funding for the 2021-22 school year, an increase of $19.2 million over the previous year. This includes fully funding the 2.0 per cent salary increase as part of the Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This is in addition to the more than $150 million COVID-19 contingency fund for education that has been available to school divisions and independent schools over the last year to support the ongoing needs of schools during the pandemic.

The more than $150 million is providing school divisions and independent schools with additional staff, substitute teacher costs, IT equipment, PPE and sanitation supplies. Included in this funding was $20.7 million in provincial funding announced on March 11, 2021, to continue to support school divisions and independent schools with these costs as the work to ensure proper supports for students are in place for fall 2021.

Bratvold explained that the education budget is always a challenge.

“We get the exact same funding as last year, that doesn’t account for increases in support staff salaries, doesn’t account for an increase in the cost of software and IT equipment and fuel and vehicle maintenance. So all of those things you still have to provide so you have to do some squeezing of your budget in other places,” he explained.

Bratvold said that four of the last five budgets in the province have been significantly challenging to the division.

“You are never going to get everything you want. For us this was anticipated, we have some students and families that have not returned because of the pandemic. And so when our enrollment was projected we projected it to be lower than anticipated and lower than it had been traditionally and we know that is going to impact our funding,” he explained.

As part of the budget, the government also announced a slight increase in Education Property Tax (EPT) mill rates for 2021 in line with year-over-year inflation.

Since the last revaluation in 2017, the taxable assessment of agriculture properties in Saskatchewan has increased, while the taxable assessment of residential, commercial/industrial and resource properties have declined.
2021 is a revaluation year for property tax assessments in Saskatchewan; the next revaluation year will be in 2025.

Provincial legislation requires all Saskatchewan properties be revalued every four years, since their values change over time.
The 2021 revaluation follows the recent decision by the government to reduce the percentage of value taxable assessment rate for commercial/industrial and resource properties from 100 per cent to 85 per cent.
The education property tax system in Saskatchewan was redesigned and took the power of setting mill rates from school divisions in 2008-09.

The mill rate reassessment has no effect on the bottom line in Saskatchewan Rivers.

“Mill rates will have an impact on property owners as well but really the ministry looks toward required expenses or anticipated expenses, budgets accordingly and does reconciliation based on property values. Education property tax assessments really have no impact on our budgets,” Bratvold said.

The next step is continuing to prepare the budget for the division itself. Bratvold explained that now that the allocation has been set they can continue to work on the budget.

“We built our budget based on our anticipation of what those allocations would be and we were pretty close. We anticipated a deficit in our budget and the deficit we anticipated is what we received and so we were prepared for what came we just have to finalize some of those last positions about where we are going to make those reductions,” he explained.

Administration in the division is expected to present a very preliminary budget overview at the next regular meeting of the board of education on Monday, April 12. The full implications of the allocation should be understood by administration by the end of May.

“Then we hope to bring our final budget for board depth of consideration overview likely in the first week of June,” Bratvold said.

Saskatchewan Rivers not planning to go to Level 4 after Easter

Last Wednesday the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) called for the Government of Saskatchewan to move all schools to Level 4 (online) learning for a two-week period following the Easter Break, which began Friday.

Level 4 means all schools would transition to online, mandatory learning from Monday, April 12 through Friday, April 23. The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division is not planning to do this at this time.

“We continue to be guided by our local medical health officer and we meet with them regularly, we had several conversations about it, it is something that should we do it has been very consistently clear that that is not a required response yet,” director of education Robert Bratvold said.

The Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division moved to Level 4 before the Christmas and after the Christmas break in a similar move after consulting with local public health authorities.

The STF made the call because of the rise of variants of concern in Saskatchewan.

“We know and I think our staff and our families know that it could happen because a classroom could be isolated, it could happen that a school could go to Level 3 or Level 4 because of caseloads. We just know that is something we will do if it becomes necessary to do and keep our kids and our community safe and we will absolutely do that but we will only do that when it’s a prudent thing to do and with the guidance of health,” Bratvold said.

“The STF has a voice and I respect their role,” he added.