Sask Rivers expects $1.8 million budget shortfall this year

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 Rivers School Division finds itself with a shortfall of roughly $1.8 million dollars, forcing trustees to spend Monday’s meeting finding ways to work around the challenges that lie ahead.

The division made the announcement following an analysis conducted by senior administration after the provincial budget was announced last week.

At their regular meeting on Monday the board of education discussed the shortfall and ways to work around the challenges that lie ahead.

Director of education Robert Bratvold said part of the challenge comes because some funds announced in the budget had been previously announced.

“We are a reflection of the bigger picture,” Bratvold said. “They talk about nearly $50 million more in budget, but the reality of that is much of it has already been within this year’s budget. It’s not new money.”

The $49.4 million or 2.5 per cent operating grant increase announced in the provincial budget includes some funding adjustments that have already been made. Therefore, the real impact of this budget compared to 2022-23 actual revenues is considerably less, Bratvold said.

“I think $20 million was for last year,” he explained. “That came to us in July and another $15 million was in December for some reconciliation for growth. Really, when you look at it, for us it is far less than a percentage point of increase when our inflationary costs are approaching that four or five per cent rate. It’s a significant shortfall.”

According to figures provided by the division, $20.0 million was announced in July 2022 for last year’s inflationary increases and is included in school divisions’ 2022-23 Ministry approved budgets. As well, $15.5 million was provided in Dec., 2022 for Sept. 30 enrolment increases that exceeded projections by 3,840 students province wide. The remaining $13.9M is for enrolment increases and amounts to a real increase of 0.7 per cent in 2023-24. This funding increase falls fall short of status quo requirements.

The Ministry of Education provides a mid-year adjustment in December following the confirmation of Sept. 30 enrollment numbers.

“The reality is we can’t really plan for that mid-year adjustment because it’s dependent on enrolment,” Bratvold said. “This year it has a significant dependency on the online learning school and its impact. We have to prepare our budget given the revenue that we are recognized for and knowing what our costs are, and that’s going to mean challenging decisions for us.”

Bratvold said the real term increase of 0.7 per cent is not sufficient to maintain current operations and programs, especially considering support staff collective agreements, teacher salary increments and local agreement costs, statutory benefit increases and other payroll related costs, fuel, insurance and utility increases as well as other general inflation, unprecedented enrolment growth and continuing need for specialized programming to meet student needs.

“We have already done our budget preparations and made some difficult decisions and we are still left with nearly a million dollars to find,” Bratvold said.

“That poses the question: do you continue to make further reductions and cuts or do you anticipate some potential change in the coming year? That would enable you to use surplus this year to balance your budget, knowing that you are faced with a tougher decision to find a balanced budget the next year.”

School divisions are required to balance their budget by law.

Bratvold added that School divisions are looking forward to hearing the results of the Class Size and Composition Committee in the coming months.