Insufficient funding from the Ministry of Education means Prairie South School Division faces a multi-million-dollar operating deficit for the 2021-22 school year, similar to the problem it faced this year.
Division administration presented the 2021-22 budget to trustees during their May board meeting. A two-page report indicated Prairie South School Division (PSSD) expected revenues of $93.1 million and operating expenses of $90.7 million, along with capital expenses of $9.86 million.
The division also faces a cash deficit of $3.27 million, mainly due to amortization expenses. PSSD plans to cover this expense using $1.69 million of designated assets and $1.58 million in unrestricted surplus.
Board trustees voted unanimously to accept next year’s budget as presented.
Funding not enough
The ministry did provide PSSD with more funding for next year, with half to cover the increase in teachers’ salaries but not enough to cover increases for CUPE and non-unionized employees, explained education director Tony Baldwin.
“So, our additional funding is great — it’s certainly better than a year when we see reduced funding — but as you can see, with a $3-million deficit, the funding isn’t adequate to meet the needs of the school division that we currently have,” he said.
PSSD administration believes that slightly more than 6,800 students will be enrolled next September, which is a decrease of roughly 80 students from this year, Baldwin added. This decrease is consistent across most Saskatchewan school divisions; there will be some funding consequences with a decrease in enrolment, but they won’t be near as “profound” as they could be.
The board is grateful for the money the provincial government provided for the joint-use school project and additional money for preventative maintenance and renewal of buildings, said board chairman Robert Bachmann. However, the division still faces economic challenges.
“… our operating reality is not as rosy, that our funding per student continues to be less than it had been, and we’re having to do more with less money,” he continued. “And although the provincial government proclaims this is the most money they’ve put into education — that is a true statement — but the impact on students continues to be less and less.
“So, I hope that our stakeholders would understand that we are running an operating deficit, and has been mentioned, we’re only able to do that because of the good work of trustees and boards in the past.”
The board talked about 12 priorities during pre-budget discussions and whittled down those ideas to five that the division could realistically pursue, Baldwin explained.
The top five priorities include addressing learning gaps in students that the pandemic caused; committing to funding pre-kindergarten on a multi-year basis; maintaining classroom staffing and keeping the pupil-teacher ratio the same; providing dedicated mental health supports to students and families; and expanding the online virtual school to include more grades.
The pandemic has affected next year’s budget and “created some additional complexity for us,” Baldwin said. Division office staff normally use the previous year’s budget as a base for future budgets, but since the pandemic upended everything, staff had to look to 2018-19 to build the 2021-22 budget.
The provincial government has given PSSD a one-time COVID-19 recovery grant of $1.15 million, which the division will use to reduce the operating deficit to $2 million.
The extra funding makes it easier to handle this smaller deficit, especially since the division does not have to reduce programming this year, Baldwin said. However, there are concerns about next year and whether more COVID-19 funding will be given.
PSSD’s insurance premiums are increasing next year by $80,000. Baldwin noted this was not due to claims but because insurance has become more expensive. The division will also spend an extra $100,000 for employer benefits and fees for the Canadian Pension Plan and employment insurance.
Baldwin added that he appreciated the business department’s support with next year’s budget, saying business manager Ron Purdy show leadership and patience even while receiving many questions.
The next PSSD board meeting is Tuesday, June 1.