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St. Paul Education approves budget, will dip into reserves to cover deficit

St. Paul Education has chosen to keep the status quo, and will not add any new transportation fees for the next school year.

ST. PAUL - St. Paul Education approved its 2021-22 budget on June 9, which includes a $681,055 deficit that will be addressed through reserve funds.

The school division has been working on the budget since early in the year, said secretary-treasurer Jean Champagne. He acknowledged that it was an interesting year to put a budget around, and like usual, the division worked around a number of assumptions. In the end, the division is assuming a return to relatively normal conditions.

Total expenses for the 2021-22 budget are pegged at just over $56.2 million, and revenue sits at $55.6 million.

The federal-provincial funding for COVID-19 that had been made available over the past year likely won't continue, which represents about $1.17 million in grant funding for the school division. The collective agreement with teachers also expired last year, which adds to the assumptions being made.

And while the UCP government recently announced $45 million for student catch-up support in numeracy and literacy to be distributed across the province, it is unknown how that number will translate to the local level. Technology upgrades are also being planned in St. Paul schools, in order to address needs that were made more prominent due to the pandemic.

Inflation in areas such as insurance, health plan premiums and the carbon tax, are being accounted for, and adjustments were made accordingly.

Overall, funding is mostly staying the same, said Champagne, other than the COVID-19 support and $397,896 for the Innovation in First Nations Education program.

While a return to near normal is anticipated, if significant pandemic conditions remain, then it is assumed that there will be support by the provincial or federal government, as was the case this year.

Transportation costs were discussed by school board trustees and administration numerous times throughout the budget process. While the notion of fees for all bus riders was floated around, the decision has been made to keep the status quo as much as possible. 

The Division has been drawing down its reserves with budgeted deficits in six of the last seven years. And while the projected deficit is manageable, according to St. Paul Education, shortfalls in areas such as transportation and declining enrolment, remain issues that need attention.

"We are moving toward a balanced budget," said Champagne.

Staffing adjustments have been kept to a minimum as the division attempts to recover from any pandemic gaps that may be experienced.

Board Chair, Heather Starosielski said St. Paul Education chose to avoid possible deeper cuts and also turned down recommendations to increase fees, "as it was mindful to minimize disruptions in a critical year."

The board also agreed that it needed to prioritize student and family support services as everyone attempts to resume a more normal routine.

During discussions on Wednesday, Starosielski acknowledged that the school division cannot continue to go into reserves. She thanked Champagne and his team for their work on the budget.

"I know it's been challenging and very demanding," said the board chair.

A motion to approve the budget was carried by the board.



Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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