Prairie Valley board chair says education funding not sustainable

Prairie Valley board chair says education funding not sustainable

“In the coming school year, we face added costs of roughly $1 million that are not covered by the Ministry of Education. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

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The budget is balanced but things are not sustainable for the Prairie Valley School Division (PVSD) according to board chair Janet Kotylak.

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“In the coming school year, we face added costs of roughly $1 million that are not covered by the Ministry of Education,” Kotylak said in a news release issued Thursday. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

The release emphasizes that the province, which provides operational funding to Saskatchewan schools, is not keeping up with inflation.

The PVSD is the latest Saskatchewan school division to approve a difficult budget. According to Kotylak, the biggest reason why the division was able to stay in the black this time around was due to the cutting of 36 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the previous year.

“We passed a balanced budget yesterday at our board meeting,” Kotylak said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “But of course, we’re facing growing pressure from the rising costs coming at us during this next coming school year.”

Utility costs, fuel prices, and insurance premiums coupled with the PVSD receiving no additional funding for additional non-teaching positions have made for another year of belt-cinching.

“We’re gonna feel those pressures over the next year,” she said.

According to the release, $152,000 has been earmarked for higher utility costs, $250,000 for higher fuel costs, an additional for increased insurance rates $300,000 and 300,000 for non-teacher salary increases.

Prairie Valley, which encompasses the rural area surrounding Regina has approximately 8,500 students across 39 schools throughout southeast Saskatchewan. Kotylak said fuel, which on Thursday remained over $2 per litre, is a major concern when it comes to transporting students.

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Thankfully, the division can maintain the current ratio of pupils to teachers this year, but it may not be able to in the future.

The overall operating expense for PSVD is expected to be $115,337,093 an increase of $3.4 million over the previous year.

When the province released its budget on March 23, it boasted a total of $1.99 billion dedicated to school operating funds in 2022-23, which was an increase of $29.4 million or 1.5 per cent over 2021-22.

But that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things when, according to Kotylak, there has been a total five per cent increase in school funding since 2016 and over the same time period the consumer price index has increased by 14 per cent.

And it’s an issue not just affecting PVSD.

In Saskatchewan’s largest school division, reported a $4.5 million shortfall, which means Saskatoon Public Schools are making staffing cuts and introducing annual fees for families. Saskatoon’s Catholic schools are expecting to face a $2 million shortfall.

The Chinook School Division has aims to cut educational assistant shifts by 30 minutes per day — down from six hours to five-and-a-half hours — as a cost-saving measure.

Southeast Cornerstone School Division announced at a May 18 board meeting that a total of 21 full-time teachers would be cut for the fall.

It’s part of the reason that Kotylak says divisions across the province need to unite and lobby the government for additional dollars.

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“We can’t collect taxes, so all the money we get comes from the government,” she said.

The divisions do separately work to get money from the province, but Kotylak feels a more united approach might help.

When the provincial budget came out this spring Kotylak asked for three to five years of future budget increases just over the current rate of inflation to get back on an even footing.

with files from Larissa Kurz and Jeremy Simes

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