Government budget remarks don’t match reality on the ground says Sask. Rivers education director

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald New board chair Darlene Rowden chaired her first meeting for the Saskatchewan Rivers board of education on Monday. Nov. 28.

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) hosted their Spring Assembly in Saskatoon on April 5 and 6.

Sask. Rivers board chair Darlene Rowden and trustees reviewed the meeting notes during their own meeting on Monday. This year, the SSBA put their focus on the recently announced budget and challenges arising from it.

Sask. Rivers education director Robert Bratvold said discussion in some of the small group sessions showed many school boards are concerned about how the government shares information about education funding. He said some government information doesn’t accurately reflect the reality in Saskatchewan’s school divisions.

“For accounting reasons, we understand that they compare budget to budget, but this year’s budget doesn’t include the inflationary expenses that were addressed and now removed from transportation and the mid-year adjustments we have talked about that,” Bratvold said. “That came out really strongly (at the meeting).”

In analysis by Sask. Rivers CFO Jerrold Pidborochynski at the last Sask. Rivers meeting, the board heard about the $1.8 million deficit created by rising costs.

Bratvold said the division’s administrative team has begun to tackle this and have already made difficult cuts to begin to close the gap.

One major challenge for Saskatchewan Rivers is the creation of the Sask DLC which is creating a gap in funding.

Bratvold said conversations at the SSBA meeting showed a significant difference in how the new online DLC is impacting Saskatchewan school divisions. He said comments about the new DLC freeing up money for school divisions do not match Sask. Rivers’ experience.

“The Minister has talked about freeing up money for school divisions and that is absolutely not the case for Sask Rivers. In fact, our budget is actually decreased by $168,000 because of the move to a Sask DLC and the prohibition from us offering our own DLC, that came out of the SSBA as well.”

When Premier Scott Moe took questions from the media in Prince Albert on Tuesday, April 11 he used similar language to address the new DLC funding as Minister of Education Dustin Duncan. Moe stated that the budget was a 6.7 per cent increase and called the increase significant.

“There’s investments in areas, there’s investments in preventative maintenance and rolling out an investment in in our provincial Distance Learning Centre, which will allow our school divisions then to not have those expenses of distance learning that they once had,” Moe said.

Moe added that student funding would flow to the division after being paid to the DLC.

“There will be a small charge too, for that student to take a class from the Distance Learning Center that the school division will cover, but they will be a net benefit across the school divisions, somewhere between $10 and $15 million, by that Distance Learning Centre being available and aligning that distance learning service and curriculum across the province,” Moe said.

Bratvold is passionate about how the new Sask Distance Learning Centre will affect the division who operated their own successful DLC.

“It’s a challenge to the board’s autonomy and it’s also a challenge to our budget,” he said. “It just stings more when the information coming from the Ministry and the Minister that doesn’t reflect our reality.

“We want to be able to tell our own story and it doesn’t match. We use the same budget package information that other school divisions and the Ministry provides and our experience our reality is not what is described generally by the Minister and the Ministry.

“We want our families and our students and our community members to know that their schools in their communities are being significantly impacted by insufficient funding for education and it’s a challenge but we are going to keep working through it,” he added.

In a release, the division stated that the Board is faced with the decision to either look more deeply into cuts, or anticipate potential changes in the coming year that would positively impact the budget. Using surplus funds to balance the budget is an option but, will this set the Board up for having to make much harder decisions in the coming year

The board continues to advocate at the provincial level and beyond for sufficient and sustainable funding to meet the needs of all students.