The introduction of the new Sask Distance Learning Centre (DLC) Crown Corporation for online learning is creating challenges for the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division.
During his director’s update during the school board’s regular meeting on Monday, Robert Bratvold told trustees those challenges included lost revenue and other matters.
Bratvold said their own SRDLC was and is doing great work.
“Philosophically it is hard because we were doing great things with our Sask Rivers DLC,” he said. “We had a credit attainment rate of nearly 100 per cent, graduation rate very, very high—over 90 per cent—so we were doing great things.”
The province told Sask. Rivers they would not be able to operate their own DLC once the provincial centre is up and running. Bratvold said it was difficult to hear they could not operate.
“That decision is not in our world and so we abide by the decision,” he said. “We will find some ways to afford them. The challenge for that then becomes how do we best serve those kids. We put a lot of plans in place to do that and it is a challenging thing when you hear the intention of the Minister, when the Minister (says) he intended for this to free up money for school divisions. For us, that just has not been the reality.”
Bratvold said the Ministry of Education has estimated far more full-time students and far more individual courses than the division projected. Currently, the estimated fees owing to the DLC is far greater than any additional revenue forecast.
The division also expects some Sask. Rivers students will enrol in the new provincial DLC full-time.
“We have to prepare a budget that includes over $300,000 less than we were receiving because of the costs that we are going to be charged for the Sask DLC,” Bratvold said.
“We get the tuition revenue and there is a cost nearly matching that for the DLC … That makes sense to me,” he added. “The rub is the estimates that the Ministry is using for those two costs—the part time costs for the single course here or there and the full time costs for full time students.”
The estimates will create budget challenges because of a fund reduction.
“The estimates the Ministry is using for those is I think not reflective of what our reality is and so that’s a really challenging circumstance, when we have to prepare a budget for really high estimates that we don’t think we are going to get that service,” Bratvold explained.
“They are going to invoice and they are going to reduce our funding substantially because of those estimated fees and we have to prepare a budget based on those fees so that’s challenging. It is reassuring that the ministry has changed their position, especially on Budget Day they said nope those are the fees, that’s the estimate, end of story,” he said.
Bratvold said that in the time since, the Ministry has changed its way of thinking. He said that after hearing from other stakeholders, they have committed to some adjustments.
“They have informed us that they are going to do a reconciliation,” Bratvold said. “They have not announced that publicly. They have to work out some of the details, but they have committed to doing a reconciliation.”
Bratvold said the division will be charged fees upfront, and will receive some funds back if Sask. Rivers students don’t use the DLC as much.
However, there are still concerns beyond the budget that are still significant. Their biggest worry is losing students who need in-class instruction to the DLC program, where they’re not as good a fit.
“We are doing lots of work with our students and families to help make that transition from our DLC back into neighbourhood schools, or through some other supports we can put in place,” Bratvold explained.
“We are doing lots of that work now. We have some really good progress in that field so that’s reassuring. We know we have got ways to support our students. That maybe wouldn’t be our first choice or their first choice if we could have continued our own DLC, but that we think will be really strong experience for our kids and that’s really good.”
According to the memo, the DLC CEO reports to a three-person board of which the only current member is Duncan. His memo compares the crown set up to that of Sask Housing Authority that exists to deliver a public policy objective of government as opposed to one like SaskTel that delivers a commercial service to generate revenue.
“We have less certainty around the structure and offerings for the Sask DLC,” Bratvold said. “We know there is going to be some efforts to make some really good programming there, but we will just have to wait and see how that looks.”