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2,735 new students expected in Sask. schools, funding questions linger

An assembly at École St. Matthew in Saskatoon.
An assembly at École St. Matthew in Saskatoon. Devin Sauer / Global NEws

Schools across Saskatchewan will soon be dismissing students for the summer, and in September even more will be returning. The Ministry of Education said 2,735 new students will be enrolling in school across the province for the 2018-19 school year.

“With an estimated 2,700 more kids going to school in our system in the fall that certainly puts some stress on school board budgets, and puts some stress on classrooms,” Education Minister Gordon Wyant said.

“So while I won’t make a commitment in terms of additional funding. Certainly we’re aware of what the pressures are going to be in the classroom, and I’ve made that very, very clear to school boards in terms of my commitment to ensure that we’re supporting children and teachers in the classroom.”

Shortly after Premier Scott Moe was elected Saskatchewan Party leader, he and Wyant announced $7.5 million in mid-year funding for school divisions. That will grow to $30 million, spread across 28 school divisions, as outlined in the 2018-19 budget.

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READ MORE: Moe makes good on promise, increases education funding

Education critic Carla Beck argued that classrooms are still being shortchanged by this increase.

“The fact is that the $54 million cut in the 2017-18 budget is not in any way back-filled by a $30 million back-fill, nor is there any commitment to funding for growth,” Beck said. “Year-over-year, there are 5,000 additional students in the system and yet we have a net $24 million cut year-over-year.”

“It’s like someone taking $50 out of your pocket, giving you $25 back and expecting you to say thank you for it.”

The projected student increase represents approximately a 1.6 per cent increase in the size of the student body. The $30 million rounds up to a 1.7 per cent operation budget increase from 2017-18.

This year’s provincial school division operating budget is $1.8 billion.

Currently, school divisions across the province are in the process of drafting their operating budgets for the next school year. Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA) president Shawn Davidson said he is hopeful the province will provide sufficient funding to address not just rising enrollment, but other rising costs.

“Our responsibility as locally elected boards is to represent the voices of families and communities in overseeing the operations of our education system. The provincial government is responsible for funding,” Davidson said.

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READ MORE: SSBA calls on Saskatchewan government to restore education funding levels

“We need to be engaged and working together to ensure that all students have the resources they need to succeed and achieve, regardless of where they live in the province or their personal circumstances.”

Teacher’s contract

The provincial bargaining unit is currently in talks with the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The two sides are heading to binding arbitration in an effort to find a deal. Because of this, few details can be revealed about the state of the talks.

However, while in committee on Monday, Wyant said the province cannot yet commit to fully funding the teacher contract. This could mean school divisions may have to fund a portion of the new contract.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation resumes contract talks with the province

In 2016, the teacher’s collective pay increase was around $18 million; half was funded by the province and half was funded by the school divisions. Wyant said this option is on the table for the new STF contract.

“That’s all part of the conversation we’re going to have as a government. We want to make sure we’re supporting teachers and children in the classrooms,” Wyant said.

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“So without making a formal commitment of how that will be funded that’s the commitment this government has made.”

The prospect of school divisions potentially funding a portion of a new teacher’s contract does not sit well with STF president Patrick Maze.

“It’s disappointing to hear they won’t commit to it. Common sense says that when an agreement is arrived at the province should fully fund it,” he said.

With lingering questions around how the teacher’s contract will be funded and growing enrollment, Maze called on the government to step up their funding, on top of the additional $30 million.

“The ministry is responsible, and government is responsible for funding education. This is not an option it’s a responsibility. Government should be funding that appropriately,” Maze said.

The old STF contract expired on Aug. 31, 2017.