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Holy Trinity forced to use emergency funds to cover high substitute teacher costs

'We just want to make sure the public is aware, because budget-wise, that’s definitely something that is a pain spot.'
Holy Trinity board office
The Holy Trinity Catholic School Division is now located on Ominica Stret East. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

Costs to hire substitute teachers have increased significantly during the past two years in Holy Trinity Catholic School Division, forcing the organization to use its emergency funds to cover the overruns.

From September 2021 to February 2022, the division spent $358,400 to have substitutes cover for regular teachers who were sick due to COVID-19. 

In comparison, during the same time in 2020-21, Holy Trinity spent $291,600 to bring in substitute teachers, while over the same period in 2019-20, the division spent $245,400 to have substitutes cover classrooms. 

Meanwhile, the average cost to bring in substitute teachers during the past seven years has been $261,500. 

During the first six months of this school year, 1,194.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers called in sick, data from the division shows. In comparison, 1,800 FTE teachers called in sick during the same period in 2020-21, and 1,000 FTE educators were ill during the same six-month period in 2019-20.

Holy Trinity has spent $66,800 more on substitutes so far this year than last year, has spent $113,000 more this year on subs compared to the 2019-20 year, and has spent $96,800 more on substitutes compared to the seven-year average, explained education director Ward Strueby.

“We just want to make sure the public is aware, because budget-wise, that’s definitely something that is a pain spot,” he said. “The Ministry (of Education) has been asking for those numbers lately, so we’re hoping that we could potentially see some either funding adjustment or support moving forward into next year.”

It has been expensive to bring in substitutes because when regular staff have to quarantine because of the coronavirus, that puts pressure on the school division to cover those absences, Strueby added. Those substitute costs are also wages that the division did not budget.

Holy Trinity spent a total of $312,000 on substitute teachers during the full 10 months of the 2019-20 school year, but the division has already spent almost $360,000 in just six months this year, said superintendent Dave DePape. 

“We’ve … blown our sub budget already — exhausted that budget,” he remarked. 

Holy Trinity will likely run a deficit this year because of the cost overruns with substitute teachers unless some other financial area comes in under budget, said CFO Curt Van Parys. 

“But all other things being equal, we’re going to have to eat it,” he added. “And it’ll impact our contingency reserve potentially, and that’s in part why we do have reserves, is to accommodate these unforeseen expenditures that come up from time to time.”

Holy Trinity works closely with the ministry because the province needs to understand the division’s predicament, said Strueby. Most school divisions are likely facing similar problems, so by asking for this information, the ministry can hopefully make prudent decisions in the future.

Few teachers were sick during the 2019-20 school year because educators taught from home from March to June after the pandemic struck, he pointed out. Since then, substitutes had covered every sick day that teachers have taken — except for one day earlier this year when division office staff covered a school.

“It was great to see our division office staff (help out). They had no qualms about it,” Strueby added. “They’re here to work with kids and help out the division.”

Data also shows that Holy Trinity has spent $379,000 during the 2021-22 school year in COVID-19-related carryover money that the ministry provided. This funding has supported increased cleaning and supplies, a reading interventionist position, increased counselling time, and tuition support for students learning online through the Regina Catholic School Division.

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