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Prairie South to run third-straight deficit due to status quo funding

'We do not have the money we need … but we are doing what we can. With any budget, we can’t do as much as we’d like to, but we need to celebrate what’s happening in schools in Prairie South'
prairie south office zoom spring 2019
Prairie South School Division (Larissa Kurz photograph)

Prairie South School Division will run a deficit for the third year in a row in 2020-21 and will have to dip into its reserves to cover the $3.8-million shortfall.

Division administration presented the proposed 2020-21 budget to board trustees during their most recent meeting. A one-page report indicated Prairie South School Division (PSSD) expects revenues of $85.2 million and expenses of $89 million, along with $2.4 million in capital expenses.

The board voted 7-3 to accept the budget, with trustees Shawn Davidson, Al Kessler, Darcy Pryor, Giselle Wilson, Lew Young, Mary Jukes and Robert Bachmann in favour. Opposed were trustees Tim McLeod, Jan Radwanski and Brian Swanson.

Also, trustees voted unanimously to allow division administration to re-designate $1.45 million for classroom composition mitigation instead of tangible capital asset expenses.

Making do with less

“Government funding is essentially the same as last year,” said Steve Robitaille, PSSD chief financial officer, while “most of the funds necessary to cover the associated (Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation) agreement negotiated provincially last fall (is also covered).”

With almost a status quo budget, there is no additional funding to address cost of living increases, hiring more staff, student growth, inflation, or improvements to services for families, he continued. Therefore, the division has diversified its investments, while it has explored —and been successful in finding — additional sources of revenues, such as building infrastructure.

This budget is aligned with the board’s strategic plan, while trustees have reviewed the budget in detail during previous planning sessions, said education director Tony Baldwin. In particular, trustees have explored the budget areas for band programs, rural transportation, early childhood education, extracurricular athletics, classroom composition, and other priorities.

“We do not have the money we need … but we are doing what we can,” he continued. “With any budget, we can’t do as much as we’d like to, but we need to celebrate what’s happening in schools in Prairie South.”

PSSD faces an operational deficit of $600,000 next year, but it could have been more than $1.2 million had the division not received a windfall of money this year, Baldwin remarked. Three-quarters of the $3.8-million overall deficit is related to infrastructure and not operational issues. However, the board will need to make difficult decisions in the future to return to a balanced budget, or at least one with a small operational deficit.

Extra money for building upkeep

There is $815,000 in surplus funds for maintenance of school buildings, which will support the overall preventative maintenance and renewal (PMR) budget of $3 million. Meanwhile, the division will spend $375,000 next year on school bus replacement, while its accumulated surplus of $30 million will decrease by $1.9 million due to this budget.

The board wants to lessen the issues facing classrooms and address teachers’ concerns, so there will be increased spending in classrooms next year, Baldwin said. This means the division office has maintained the current staffing formula for teachers in schools; Prairie South has one of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) in the province, at 16.82 students per teacher, compared to the provincial ratio of 19.07.  

PSSD will be the only school division in Saskatchewan to designate more than $1.4 million to address classroom complexity and related issues, he continued. Meanwhile, more than $17 million — 25 per cent of the budget — is being spent on teachers’ salaries for next year.

Baldwin then praised the quality work that division staff have put forward during the past 10 weeks.

“We are a world-class school division,” he added. “My comments today highlight only a small fraction that is done every day, every week, (and) every month to support our students and staff.”

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