SASKATOON – School boards in Saskatchewan are dealing with significant challenges as a result of the provincial budget, according to a survey of the member boards of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.
On average, boards responding to the survey provided a rating of “Not Good” – which equates to about 2 out of 5 – when asked about the overall effect of the budget on their divisions. While boards each have unique needs and circumstances, a high number of respondents cited the lack of funding available to cover increases for teachers negotiated in the provincial collective bargaining agreement, and other pressures, as of major concern.
“School boards are going to do everything in their power to ensure students are not negatively impacted by this situation,” said Connie Bailey, President of the SSBA. “At the same time, many have difficult decisions to make with reduced resources available and issues like increasing student numbers and aging infrastructure.
“We want to ensure we offer the best educational opportunities possible for our province’s students, by focusing on continuous improvement in the system, ensuring that our teachers are paid and that we can cover general operating costs – but certainly the timing and reductions in the budget this year pose major challenges for boards of education,” she added.
While boards surveyed cited positives in the budget including recognition of current-year enrolment numbers and an increase for preventative maintenance and renewal dollars, many noted those changes were offset by the lack of funding for teacher salary increases and other uncontrollable costs. The result is overall funding decreases for many boards and allocations that do not reflect inflation for all.
“The SSBA has eight principles for funding that our members have identified as important and we use those as a basis for our survey,” Bailey said. “This year, we heard overwhelmingly that sufficiency was the principle most lacking. Also of concern, a majority pointed to predictability as lacking, particularly related to the late budget, and many expressed concern about sustainability for the future considering trends in the approach to funding.”
Boards noted that the principle of autonomy remains present in how they can target some of the dollars allocated and authority remains for school boards to act in the best interests of the students, families and communities they are elected to serve.
“When the government took over responsibility for setting education property tax rates, they also took on responsibility for ensuring that education in Saskatchewan is adequately funded,” Bailey said. “Our member boards are strongly indicating that is not the case in this most recent budget – and we have a mandate from the public that elected us to advocate for our students. Some member boards will have to find cuts and others are planning to use dollars reserved for major projects for their operating expenses for the coming year.
“As locally elected representatives, we want our communities, families and students to know that there are passionate and committed people working for you in education and there is excellent work being done in the province’s 28 school divisions that we need to shine a spotlight on and build upon for the benefit of every student,” she added.
Backgrounder: SSBA 2016-17 Budget Evaluation