Catholic Division pleased with education budget and investment in local infrastructure

Herald file photo.

The Prince Albert Catholic School Division (PACSD) was pleased with the province’s 2023 budget investment in education as well as the renovation of one of the schools in their division.

Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive $2.04 billion in school operating funding for the 2023-24 school year, an increase of $49.4 million or 2.5 per cent compared to the 2022-23 budget. The province released its budget on March 22.

“I think there’s certainly a positive move in the province to support education,” PACSD education director Lorel Trumier said. “We do have approximately $175,000 more to operate next year than we had this year, so that is certainly appreciated. It’s in the right direction.”

Trumier said the division would always advocate for more funding. However, they were happy with the funding and spending announcements made Wednesday.

The province allocated $147.3 million to education capital projects for safe and inclusive learning environments and to address enrolment growth. This includes funding for five new school capital projects including a new K-12 Francophone school to replace École Valois in Prince Albert renovations to St. John Community School in Prince Albert.

“As we look at the parts that are coming to our school division, we understand there will be less money in preventative maintenance and renewal,” Trumier explained. “But, we were successful in having a project to support the minor renovations that we had put in the proposal for St John’s School.”

Trumier said that it is still early in the process and all details have not been finalized.

She added that there is some sense that the provincial government is listening to the needs of the province’s school divisions. She also said the budget did include some ways to help address inflationary pressures in areas like heating, electricity, and transportation.

However, she said that the administration team is still examining all of the budget details.

“We’re trying to do the right things by our children and our students,” Trumier said. “We know education’s an investment. (It’s) so good to see that government is seeing education as an opportunity to invest in the province and in our children.”

Trumier said that one area that could be addressed is mental health. There is a component in the province’s funding distribution model that addresses supports for learning, and that includes issues like mental health.

However, Trumier said there are still a few barriers that need to be addressed.

“We know that there are some elements that need to get worked out … in terms of what’s available to our students and how do we access that in our health authority and how can we make that an efficient process for families and for the health authority as well,” she said.

The province recently turned down a mental health project in the division because it was covered under the Health Authority,

The province is also providing $7.0 million to school divisions to retain the more than 200 Educational Assistants that have been hired since September 2021. This is part of the government’s ongoing commitment to support diverse student and classroom needs.

Trumier said the continued funding for educational assistants was also a positive.

“They gave a one time grant last year for the purpose of improving the number of educational assistants in our system. This year they’ve made the same financial commit to maintain that the number of educational assistants, so that’s also very positive. We’re glad to have the extra support in our classrooms and in our schools,” Trumier said.

Saskatchewan education minister Dustin Duncan touted the budget education spending as a significant investment that would help improve education, childcare, and libraries.

“We are ensuring students have access to high quality education no matter where they live in the province,” Duncan said in a media release. “Families are supported with accessible, affordable child care, and libraries can continue to offer meaningful services, particularly to our rural communities.”

The PACSD board of education also met with Duncan remotely ahead of the budget on Monday, March 20 to discuss matters of interest to the division.

Trumier said the meeting was positive and Duncan was attentive to what the board of education had to say.

“That was a very positive conversation. He listened to our concerns and heard our wants and needs, and, it’s important that that Minister can do that,” she said. “He’s made time for us in his very busy schedule, even during budget.

“We advocate for the mental health and wellbeing of our students and the needs that we would have and also some budgetary needs, and he was open to the conversations that we had,” she added.