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Saskatoon area school divisions will operate with budget cutbacks

Watch above: As students celebrate the summer break this week administrators have pulled out their calculators. Joel Senick tells us tight budgeting means cuts are already being planned for the fall.

SASKATOON – Officials in local school divisions say they will operate with budgets that feature cutbacks for the 2015-16 school year and are disappointed in the lack of provincial funding to cover future students. On Monday, both the Prairie Spirit School Division and the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Division passed their annual budgets. Officials from both school boards say they were tasked to find areas where they could cut spending.

Despite their efforts, Prairie Spirit passed a budget that was roughly $2.5 million in the red. Its board concluded it would have to lay off up to 60 staff members to balance the books, but would not do so because its members believe the move would harm students.

“We don’t have the money and we don’t have the availability of getting that two and a half million to balance the budget,” said Larry Pavloff, the division’s board chair.

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READ MORE: Prairie Spirit parents send hundreds of protest letters to province

Saskatoon’s Catholic school board passed a balanced budget, but was forced to cut roughly $1.1 million to break even.

“We had to basically cut back a little bit on things that we were projecting to do, so it came to things like the furnishings within schools,” said Diane Boyko, the Catholic school board chair.

“The rotations within the computer labs in our schools, we had to cut back on that as well,” she added.

Both Pavloff and Boyko said they were disappointed in the province’s plan to not provide funding for incoming students. The education funding formula does not provide funding for students until a year after they’ve enrolled in a division school.

Prairie Spirit expects roughly 300 more students to enroll in its division next school year, according to Pavloff.

“Those 300 students probably equates to about $2.1 million that we will have to find to work those students into our classrooms,” said Pavloff.

“It just defies common sense that this government wouldn’t fund divisions that are experiencing growth of new students,” said Trent Wotherspoon, the NDP’s education critic, on Monday to reporters.

In a statement, a provincial government official said “a review of the education funding formula is already underway.”

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“Given the fiscal circumstances within our province, we cannot commit to additional funding at this time,” read the statement.

“That said, if the province’s fiscal situation changes over the coming months, addressing enrollment growth is a top priority for the ministry.”

Prairie Spirit has added roughly nine teachers since 2012, with enrollment rising by more than 700 students over the same period, according to Pavloff. He said it wouldn’t be possible to cut more positions.

“Teachers in our school division and all of our staff have taken on more responsibilities,” he said.

Pavloff added that he’s confident the provincial government will eventually provide the division with the money it needs to balance its budget.

“The responsibility for funding education is in the government’s hands,” said Pavloff.

“I think through our communication we’ve showed them it is their responsibility to come up with money that we need for the students in our school division.”