Short $4.5M, Saskatoon Public Schools cuts staff, adds lunch hour fee

‘This bone is picked clean, there is almost nowhere to go that doesn’t have a direct impact on students.’

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Saskatoon Public Schools trustee Charmaine Bellamy remembers the first budget she took part in passing.

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At the time, the board chair noted it would be a “difficult year,” with “tough decisions” ahead. That language seems to have followed Bellamy across six subsequent budget meetings — the only difference is that the hope and optimism present years ago is all but spent.

“Initially, I kept hoping that the government would, I guess, step up in my mind and finesse appropriately. And I stopped thinking that’s going to happen,” she said at the board’s meeting to approve its 2022-23 budget Tuesday night.

“After seven years, it’s not a bad year … it’s a trend.”

Grappling with a $4.5-million shortfall, SPS is making staffing cuts and introducing a new annual fee for families of elementary school students in order to offset costs.

The division’s approved budget includes expenditures of $297 million, an increase of $9.3 million over last year.

An SPS release notes that the provincial budget’s $5.2-million or 2.1 per cent increase in operating funds for the division mainly covers the provincially negotiated two per cent salary increase for teachers.

But the division says that increase does not cover contracted increases for other staff, coupled with rising costs for employee benefits, transportation and inflation.

Board chair Colleen MacPherson said that considering instruction and facilities make up 90 per cent of the division’s operating budget, it was “impossible” to balance the budget without affecting classroom experience.

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“We’ve been doing this for six years now. And this bone is picked clean, there is almost nowhere to go that doesn’t have a direct impact on students,” she said.

“As a trustee, the one question I always ask myself about decisions that we make is, is this good for students? And this is not good for students.”

SPS is reducing 12.7 full time equivalent elementary school teaching positions and 6.9 FTE positions in high schools.

One elementary English as an additional language teaching position, one elementary resource teacher position and two discretionary teacher positions are also being cut.

The division is also cutting three community school co-ordinator positions, one educational psychologist position and half of a speech language pathologist position. One co-ordinator position and one consultant position are being reduced.

There will also be a five per cent reduction to school budget lines and a 10 per cent reduction to division central office budget lines. SPS says that all affected staff will either be redeployed or finish the term of their contracts.

Additions in the budget include a half of a secretary position for each elementary school with enrolment over 600, $1.3 million to replace Wi-Fi infrastructure and $100,000 for furniture purchase and replacement.

One million dollars in targeted provincial funding will be used to hire 21 FTE educational assistants.

The division is introducing a new annual fee to cover the cost of lunch hour supervision at elementary schools. Families at elementary schools will be required to pay $100 per child if they stay for lunch, to a maximum of $200 per family.

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SPS says the new fee will offset supervision expenses, which cost about $1.2 million per yer, by about $500,000.

MacPherson said it shows what the division has been forced to do in order to balance the budget. The details of the fee have yet to be finalized, but it will likely include exemptions for some families depending on their finances.

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