Catholic Division dealing with challenges after provincial budget

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The Prince Albert Catholic School division said its provincial funding allocation has been cut.

The division’s board was given a breakdown Monday of the numbers included in the April 6 budget.

According to numbers provided in a memo, the Prince Albert Catholic School Division operating funding allocation for Sept. 1 to August 31 dropped from $,29,982,000 in 2020-2021 to $29,385,000 in 2021-2022, or $598,000, which equals a two per cent drop year over year.

Director of education Lorel Trumier saw the decrease as meaningful.

“It’s significant in that anytime you have a decrease you are forced to try do the same work with less. We do know that those numbers are driven by enrolment and at this point in this particular school year we did see a reduction of enrolment,” Trumier said.

She explained that enrolment numbers declined for various reasons including families deciding where they wanted to attend school, such as families from the north deciding to remain on reserve instead of returning to urban centres due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that those students could choose to return again.

While the province touted the education budget as a $19.2 million funding increase, opposition critics argued that the increase was less than the negotiated salary increase for teachers, meaning that individual school boards would get less.

Trumier, though, said the division appreciated the enrolment-based funding model.

“The funding formula does adjust based on enrolment as of Sept. 30 and we are pleased that the government did return to the model of managing it from that perspective so that it becomes a little more predictable and it is kind of the method we are used to,” Trumier explained.

During her presentation at the meeting, she explained that the funding is based on the same as previous years and administration is still looking at various components of the budget. The Sept. 30 enrolment means that there will be a mid-year adjustment to the grant based on enrolment next school year.

“This is different than what had occurred this year but this year was an anomaly and we will certainly integrate these dollars to a budget to be presented to the board in short stead. We are currently working on that with our senior administration,” she told trustees during the meeting.

Trustee Darryl Sande noted that the Catholic Division is seeing what appears to be the largest impact of any school division in the province and asked if there was recourse. Trumier assured him that they would work with families to ensure that numbers are more accurate for enrolment projections.

“Our trustees are very in tune at managing the information that is coming and obviously the budget was delayed until April 6 and we are just getting it to drafting budget plans for this fall,” Trumier said.

According to Trumier, the concern rises from always having to do more with less with elements like inflation included and the division is always concerned about that. Another factor is what COVID-19 will look like in the future as an impact on education.

“We saw some impacts this year and we were supported with contingency funding and we’re looking at next year. Yes our school division received $367,000 of contingency funding for next year but it does cost money to buy the supplies that we need to maintain our safety protocols,” she said.

The contingency funding must be spent in sanitation, substitute teacher costs, procure PPE and assist schools in ensuring proper supports for students are in place for the fall of 2021.

She added that as a division they want to be able to focus on student learning and achievement.

“We don’t want to worry about the elements that need to keep us safe, those are basic needs so we definitely want to be able to continue the good work that is happening in our schools while maintaining safety measures and reducing the spread,” Trumier said.

“We will be looking at those kinds aspects as we move into the new school year for sure,” she added.

In 2018 the Catholic Division enacted a bylaw where they can determine its own separate school division tax and set education mill rates. The division is required to pass a resolution each year before April 20 to set their own property tax mill rates. At the meeting on Monday the board chose to set their mill rate the same as that of the province. The 2021 provincial mill rate is 1.36 mills for agricultural property, 4.46 for residential property, 6.75 mills for commercial/industrial property and 9.79 mills for resource property.

According to Trumier, the next steps for the division budget will be to present the budget at a meeting in May and have it approved by the board for submission by July 1 to the Ministry of Education.