School divisions welcome unexpected funding announcement

Herald file photo.

Province promises immediate $7.5 million for Saskatchewan’s schools

Local education leaders are praising an announcement by new Premier Scott Moe about an increase in funding for staffing in the province’s schools.

Moe and the provincial government announced immediate mid-school year funding of $7.5 million Tuesday that will be provided to school divisions to hire staff immediately.

That amount will increase to $30 million in the 2018-19 budget; it will be directed to the hiring of 400 in-school education professionals and other school board priorities.

The money will be distributed based on the per-student allocation formula already used by the province. This would see the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division receive $367,900 of the $7.5 million and the Prince Albert Catholic Separate School Division receive $120,400.

Moe had campaigned on increasing funding so educational assistants (EAs) and other classroom supports that had been eliminated in last year’s budget could be brought back by school divisions.

“Over the last several months, I have heard from parents and educators that additional funding is essential to ensure that our children receive the highest quality education possible,” Moe said in a press release.

“This $7.5 million in immediate funding will put essential classroom supports in place before we introduce the full amount of $30 million in the 2018-19 budget.”

The news caught local school leaders off guard.

Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board chair Barry Hollick said the board would have to meet to figure out how to best allocate that funding. Unlike many divisions, he said, Sask. Rivers avoided layoffs by using a surplus to provide retirement incentives to those at the top of the salary scale. The savings realized through those retirements were used to pay younger, existing staff lower on the scale.

“Due to prudent financial management over the years, we had a reserve. That was a one-time thing available to us. If the budget doesn’t have more funding, there would be a staff crunch” he said.

Hollick said the Saskatoon School Division, where those EAs were laid off, would likely welcome their share of the $7.5 million to bring some of those staff back.

But he did say that the $30 million to be distributed throughout the school divisions is vital, as the province won’t allow school divisions the option of using an existing surplus to cover operational shortfalls, such as in staffing*, and any further funding reductions would have led to a hiring freeze and possible layoffs.

“Our budgets have been worked out for this year already,” he said.

“Our preference would probably be to see that in next year’s allotment for 2018-19. Our staffing has been done for this year … but we welcome the additional funding.”

The local Catholic school division also welcomed the funding announcement.

“We’re certainly very pleased,” said director of education Laurel Trumier.

“Every little bit helps.”

She said the Catholic division board will meet to identify the division’s priorities and what the conditions of the funding are before making a decision.

For both divisions, the announcement, and comments made by newly-appointed education minister Gord Wyant are signs of a more positive relationship with the provincial government than teachers and school divisions have enjoyed since last year’s budget.

*This is an updated story. The original story said the Sask. Rivers surplus is gone. It is not gone. It still exists, but the option to use surplus to fund operational shortfalls, such as staffing, has been taken away by the provincial government.

The Herald regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused.

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 7 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.