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Using reserves to address classroom complexity is ‘scary’ but a ‘duty,’ trustee says

During their recent meeting, trustees with Holy Trinity Catholic School Division approved the 2024-25 operating budget.
Children learning music in the classroom (Jose Luis Pelaez-Stone-Getty Images)
Students in a classroom.

Catholic school board trustees are acutely aware of their “duty” to tackle classroom size and complexity issues, which is why they are using reserves in next year’s budget to handle these challenges.

During their recent meeting, trustees with Holy Trinity Catholic School Division approved the 2024-25 operating budget, which includes revenues and expenses of $30,800,150 and capital spending of $20,218,765. This represents a year-over-year increase of 7.5 per cent, 5.9 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively.

Of note, Holy Trinity is receiving an extra $1.9 million in grants to address the projected enrolment of 2,483 students; this year, 2,411 pupils were enrolled. Also, the division expects to pay $27,425 in carbon taxes. 

Ward Strueby, director of education, explained that the Ministry of Education had included $18 million in its proposed agreement to the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) to address classroom complexity issues. Of that funding, Holy Trinity would have received $199,800, representing 2.25 full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher positions. 

However, because the STF rejected the province’s proposal, Holy Trinity is being forced to take $158,670 from reserves to add 1.75 FTE teacher positions to address classroom complexity, he added. 

“We said we were going to look at class complexity and size. I know we’re taking from reserves, and it can be a little bit scary, but we haven’t got back the funding (the province) cut in 2017 … ,” said board chairwoman Joann Blazieko.

“It is part of our duty to look at class complexity and size.”

With regular operational dollars, the division plans to add 3.75 FTEs in support teachers to address classroom complexity and increased service demands, 0.6 FTE for a school-based administrator for Our Lady of Hope, 0.4 FTE for a teacher to handle projected enrolments and 2.71 FTEs for educational assistants. 

Overall, Holy Trinity expects to have 264.09 FTE positions next year, an increase of 7.99 FTE positions or 3.1 per cent, the budget shows. 

Curt Van Parys, the division’s chief financial officer, hopes that after arbitration concludes, the initial $18 million will flow to school divisions, said Strueby. However, the CFO believes using reserves is appropriate so that division administration does not have to return and ask for more funding for staff.

Meanwhile, Holy Trinity is allocating $156,265 to hire Arctic World Cyber Security to protect the division’s information technology systems, the education director continued. Hiring this company would “completely eliminate” the No. 1 risk of cyber-attacks that Holy Trinity faces.

“If we were to be held hostage, we would be paying a whole bunch more … ,” added Strueby. “This is one of those things that keeps Curt up at night.” 

The worst-case scenario with a cyber-attack is hackers taking over the IT network, encrypting all the information, and then charging a major ransom to give it back, explained Mark Selinger, supervisor of learning and technology.

Some data that Holy Trinity could lose in a cyber-attack includes kids’ names and addresses, teachers’ lesson plans, operational data, human resources information, and emails.

“We have tried to mitigate this issue as much as we can at this point. This is the last layer of protection (and) defence,” Selinger added.

This budget continues to support the board’s four priorities of learning (Christ-centred learning environments, the provincial education plan and encouraging student success), human resources (complying with collective bargaining agreements and employment contracts), technology (multi-year tech plans, continued support of software solutions) and strategic planning, said Strueby.  

It’s great that the board didn’t cut any programs or positions next year and allowed division administration to add money to address classroom size and complexity, Strueby continued. Taxpayers should realize that the board is putting more resources in place than the province is providing.

Trustee Christine Boyczuk was OK with using reserves to address classroom complexity issues but thought the board should encourage the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) to advocate for long-term, predictable funding to the province. 

She also thought more health and social services supports were required to address these issues since they weren’t strictly educational problems. 

The next Holy Trinity board meeting is Monday, Aug. 19. 

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