Prince Albert school divisions welcome provincial funding boost

Herald File Photo

Representatives from the Saskatchewan Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic school divisions welcomed the provincial government’s decision to provide an additional $40 million in top-up funding for education on Thursday, but said they could use a more predictable announcement schedule in the future.

Sask. Rivers will receive nearly $950,000 in funding, while the PA Catholic School Division will receive an estimated $290,000 increase. In a news release, the province said $20 million will go towards school divisions to address school enrolment growth. The other $20 million will go towards hiring supports such as teachers, educational assistants, speech language pathologists, counsellors and educational psychologists.

Neither Saskatchewan Rivers nor Prince Albert Catholic will receive the enrolment growth portion.

“We’ve been calling for additional funding for schools for quite some time, so, I’m never going to object to some additional funding that’s positive,” Saskatchewan Rivers director of education Robert Bratvold said.

He explained that the division has had stable enrolments with some declines, so it makes sense to give more to schools experiencing high growth.

While welcome, Bratvold said the portion the division receives for cost sharing and complexity won’t make a huge difference.

“It won’t come close to meeting the needs that we have,” Bratvold said.

“It is a step in the right direction. The conditionality is a challenging piece to understand, but I think that it’s fair to say that local school boards have a good sense of their needs. Having the province dictate how to spend funds is a little bit challenging, but I would also say it’s this is a key source of our need, and we have some allocations that we can make in this area.”

The Catholic Division passed their budget for 2023-2024 during their regular meeting on Monday, but have yet to make their final submission. Director of education Lorel Trumier said they will have to make some adjustments before submitting their budget to the province.

“This is the time of year where our budget needs to be prepared and needs to be passed. Obviously, I think there are some timelines that need to be met, and we’re grateful that any funding that can come is going to come before final submission,” Trumier said.

While grateful for the additional investment, Trumier said provincial funding needs to be predictable to provide long-term benefits.

She said they’ll have more details about how they plan to spend the funds in the coming weeks.

“There are caveats to the spending on support for learning which would be where we want to put it for sure, which would be to impact the classroom as much as possible,” Trumier said. “It’s the priority that we’ve put our budgeting process on and it’s still not enough.”

Bratvold echoed those concerns about the timing of the funding announcement. Saskatchewan Rivers had not passed their budget yet but are looking to complete it before June 30. The money coming so late in the process created some challenges but they are hoping for an extension.

“It’s also challenging to make some different decisions this late in the school year and also during staffing processes it becomes challenging,” Bratvold said, but added. “When we get an injection of $947,000, that’s a positive thing.”

The Catholic Division passed their budget by accessing surplus. Bratvold said the extra funding means they wouldn’t have to do the same.

“It also has some implications about how do we make those adjustments and how do we make them in the very best ways that we can,” he explained.

Sask Rivers is close to having the budget finalized but were waiting for Minister of Education Dustin Duncan to make the announcement after it was teased by Premier Scott Moe over a month ago.

“We got things, as near to finished as we could,” Bratvold said. “We just held off on the finalization.

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful because this is an injection that will help meet some needs, yes. Every bit counts and we’re more than willing to make those last-minute adjustments so we can meet the needs as best we can.”

According to Bratvold although it is not in the announcement, Duncan has told the division that the money will be an ongoing contribution.

“Even though it’s not in the documentation we’ve heard from the ministry and the minister himself that this will be planned as an increase to the regular budgets, and that’s a positive thing,” Bratvold explained.

Bratvold said the unpredictable funding made budget planning challenging. He’s hoping future announcements will be timed around budget meetings, not after.

“Do it fully at budget time so that allocation is there, the planning can happen, and the delivery occurs in a systematic and efficient kind of way,” Bratvold said.

He added that he is hopeful for a more consistent, sustainable and predictable funding process in the future.

The Catholic Division had to make creative decisions to balance their budget including reaching into reserves reluctantly.

“We’ve used some very creative strategies and we’ve made some decisions already to get us to a better place on the budget line, but there’s just so much that needs to get done for supporting our students in their learning,” Trumier said. “It’s beyond just having a teacher in a classroom.”

She added that they want more supports and resources for learning and to do more for the students.

“We want to do the best we can for children and have the best other opportunities for these students, too, so, we’re grateful for the additional dollars. There’s still some more work to do.”