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Saskatoon Public Schools draws on reserve funds to hire 29 new teachers, 40 EAs

Saskatoon public school board lengthens school day, keeps three vacation break periods.
Saskatoon Public Schools passed its budget for the 2020/2021 school year on Tuesday. Global News

Saskatoon Public Schools has passed its budget for the upcoming school year, amid frustration that government funding is lagging behind enrolment and inflation demands.

The $278.3 million budget passed Tuesday dedicates funds to hiring 29 new teachers and 40 educational assistants.

Funding from the province increased by $8.3 million for the year, or about $85 a student. Board chair Colleen MacPherson said that’s not enough.

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“We were hoping that we would receive some funding in recognition for the complexities that exist in our classrooms,” MacPherson told Global News. “That didn’t materialize.”

The board pulled $2 million from its operating reserves with the hope of maintaining class sizes and supporting students with complex needs, she said.

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It’s also addressing the shortfall by cutting five teachers from discretionary staffing positions and five English as an additional language teacher positions. Those teachers will be reassigned to open positions, MacPherson said.

The school division is anticipating enrollment growth of 477 students next academic year. 

About 1,700 students need additional support, MacPherson said, with nearly 300 requiring one-on-one help from educational assistants.

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“It would always be great to support our students fully, the way we would like to support them and the way they need to be supported. But that just isn’t a reality for us right now,” MacPherson said.

“The addition of 40 full-time educational assistants this year is a huge step for us, but … the demand always exceeds the need.”

Back-to-school plans that make special considerations for the coronavirus pandemic likely won’t be ready until August, she said. That leaves many questions about funds for additional cleaning and student safety protocols unanswered.

“It is a budget that is filled with more uncertainty than I’ve ever seen in budgets before — most of that related to what the fall is going to look like,” MacPherson said.

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“We really don’t know what the actual costs are going to be for us in the coming year.”

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