The St. Paul area’s largest school division is aiming to keep teachers in the classroom and class sizes low, despite financial challenges. But, changes will likely be made as the division is now undertaking a full-scale review of all its departments.
“As a very cautious approach was taken with regards to staffing and overall spending, we do not anticipate having to make any mid-year teacher cuts,” reads a media release, sent out Dec. 11, after the board’s regular month meeting. “Fortunately, we have modest reserves to help absorb the impact of some of these reductions for this year. Using these reserves will also minimize disruptions to student learning and keep our class sizes amongst the lowest in the province.”
During Wednesday's meeting, the budget was discussed at length and board chair Heather Starosielski said she felt the division was making the right decision by going into its reserves.
“Although the government has committed to maintaining an $8.2 billion budget for education, the manner in which it was distributed to school divisions has changed. St. Paul Education is projecting a shortfall of $1.6 million to its annual budget,” reads the statement from SPERD.
Following the release of the provincial budget in the fall, school divisions across the province have been adjusting as they see fit, making up for shortfalls, and at times increasing various fees mid-way through the year.
In St. Paul, the division is taking steps to avoid passing the financial burden onto its families, for now. The province has recently announced that school boards can reallocate IMR funding, which is something St. Paul Education plans to do.
While the reallocation is based on approval from the province, it could mean that about $800,000 would be shifted from maintenance projects to other areas of the budget. The offer from the province is a one-time opportunity, explained secretary-treasurer Jean Champagne, during Wednesday’s meeting.
“The Province announced late last week some new flexibility to reallocate funding that is normally meant for building preservation and upkeep. As a result of this change, the Division will be using some of this funding to offset the $1.6 million deficit down to $800,000. This is a one-time occurrence that only helps in the present school year and is not sustainable long-term,” reads the release.
“It buys us some time,” said Champagne, adding, while the reallocation will help the school division this year “it masks some underlying issues.”
While the school division has seen additional enrolment this school year, which puts them in a slightly better position, a huge increase in insurance fees has put even more pressure on the budget. For St. Paul, the increase translates to $680,000 of unexpected costs.
Many school divisions across the province have been affected by this increase. Trustee Dwight Wiebe said during a recent rural caucus meeting, he heard from a number of other divisions that similar large increases have been noted.
“Our insurance increased by over 175 per cent, resulting in an ongoing, annual expense of $994,000,” reads the release from SPERD.
The division is expecting more reductions when the provincial government tables its spring budget, which is also expected to reveal a new funding formula for education.
“These reductions could mean we have to reduce our spending by close to $2 million,” according the release.
In preparation for the spring budget, Superintendent Glen Brodziak said the division has started a full-scale review of all departments, with the goal to “protect the classroom.”
“Despite our best efforts, we worry that our current levels of operation and services will be unsustainable. Similar to other school divisions, we anticipate that next year there may be changes in programming and services, including a possible increase in class sizes due to reductions in staff. Unfortunately, parents can also likely expect increases in transportation and other school fees,” reads the release.
“This budget will require us to make difficult choices that will have impacts on students, families and staff. St. Paul Education is making every effort to maximize our budget while ensuring our students receive the best level of service,” reads the release.
According to the division, 77 per cent of St. Paul Education’s $58 million annual budget goes towards staffing.