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Financial planning in a post-pandemic era will be difficult, Catholic board hears

Catholic school trustees discussed future financial planning and budgets during their recent board of education meeting.
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Financial planning beyond the 2022-23 fiscal year could be difficult for Holy Trinity Catholic School Division because of the uncertain economic environment, the division’s chief financial officer says.

In a post-COVID-19 era, future budgets must factor the economic climate in Saskatchewan and Canada, public sector collective bargaining, and flat enrolment projections, Curt Van Parys said during the recent board of education meeting. 

“Financial planning beyond this year will be extremely challenging. Deficits will have an impact on the budget five years out,” he said while discussing a preliminary budget report for 2022-23. 

The pandemic’s effects have affected enrolment numbers — fewer students are enrolled this year than projected — and have contributed to enhanced safety requirements and alternative educational offerings, he continued. 

Pandemic financial supports that the division set for the 2021-22 year — $378,300 — were mainly for post-pandemic needs. However, those supports did not contemplate the educational, operational or financial effect of the pandemic’s fifth wave, nor subsequent waves or variants. 

Van Parys’ budget assumption report also contained enrolment projections from 2021-22 to 2026-27, along with salary increase percentages for staff until 2023-24.

The report noted that about 80 per cent of Holy Trinity’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits. The fact some employee groups have contracts until 2023-24 gives the division more certainty in determining upcoming salary and benefits budgets, he pointed out. 

The remaining 20 per cent of the budget goes toward goods and services, membership fees to provincial boards and associations, and contractual and statutory commitments. 

Other factors could affect revenue in the coming years, he continued. This includes adjusted grant revenues based on lower enrolment numbers, interest rate hikes, a provincial election in November 2024, uncertain provincial funding in a post-pandemic world, and changes to education property taxes.

Changes to Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) contributions, Employment Insurance (EI) costs and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) benefits also need to be accommodated, said Van Parys. The school division must contribute $400 extra in CPP/EI benefits per employee. 

Costs for future goods and services must consider Saskatchewan’s current consumer price index (CPI) of 3.70 per cent and CPP and EI costs of 10 per cent, he continued. Current inflationary pressures, supply chain problems, and insurance and utility increases will also affect the budget.

Instruction is the largest line item in the budget, so the board must dedicate as much money to the classroom as possible, Van Parys said. 

The division must continue to provide a Christ-centred learning environment that is safe, healthy and supportive; enhance student success by improving the quality of teaching and learning; and implement intervention strategies to support students whom the pandemic has negatively affected. 

Meanwhile, trustees must accommodate a bus fleet renewal lease in 2022-23 — a contingency reserve will cover 62 per cent of that renewal — since the lease ends in October 2025, he continued. Repair costs declined after the recent bus renewal; during the first five months of this school year, costs have been $4,000; average year-to-date costs during the last three years were $31,000.

“That sneaky old federal carbon tax is (also) definitely going to have an increase. I believe in two years out it’s going to be another eight cents a litre on propane, so another cost impact we absorb,” said Van Parys. 

The average school is 52 years old, so future budgets must address health and safety issues, while preventative maintenance and renewal (PMR) money must address immediate repairs, Van Parys continued. 

The current three-year technology refresh has proven financially sustainable, with every student in grades 7 to 12 receiving a Chromebook, he added. Meanwhile, the ratio of Chromebooks to students from kindergarten to Grade 6 is 2.5:1. 

The next Holy Trinity board meeting is Monday, Feb. 14.