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Thursday, 30 March 2017 05:45

Chinook School Division facing challenges after large budget cut

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The Chinook School Division will remain intact, but the organization is facing significant financial challenges after the announcement of the provincial budget.

The provincial government announced the details of the 2017-18 provincial budget on March 22 and at the same time released the final report from the Advisory Panel on Education Governance Renewal.
The provincial government accepted the findings in the report to keep elected school boards and the existing school divisions. The panel highlighted the need to continue to pursue efficiencies and to control costs in the education sector.
The provincial government therefore plans to introduce amendments to the Education Act to create a new framework for shared services such as procurement, transportation, payroll, and the salary range for school division administrators and elected trustees.
The 28 school divisions in the province will receive $1.86 billion in operating funding for 2017-18, which is an overall reduction of $22 million or 1.2 per cent less compared to the previous year.
However, in the case of the Chinook School Division the reduction in operational funding is more significant.
The Chinook board of trustees anticipated a reduced budget and was planning for that, but the actual budget numbers are worse than they expected.
The Chinook School Division received an overall reduction in operational funding of $5.94 million or 7.3 per cent less. This reduction is about $3.3 million more than what the school division was expecting.
“We’ll try to limit the damage as much as it is possible to do it,” Chinook Board Chair Larry Caswell said during a media briefing March 23. “From where we stand today, we would like to say there will be no damage. Obviously the constraints we’ve been placed under are very difficult. I don’t think we can guarantee there’ll be no damage. The cut actually is just too severe to guarantee that.”
According to Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin, the Chinook School Division has the largest reduction in operational funding of all 28 school divisions.
“Chinook is the highest reduction in funds in the province and because of the magnitude we’ve been given some latitude that we may be able to use some reserves to offset it, at least for a period of time, which will buffer the impact for some time, maybe a year or two,” he said. “We haven’t had the conversation yet with the ministry around that and we’ll be in consultation with them around the use of reserves, but it still doesn’t mean we won’t have to address it over time.”
He noted there are three reasons for the large reduction in operational funding to the Chinook School Division.
“There was a general cut based on the government’s reduced contribution to education,” he explained. “Then there’s always changes in our school division profile with respect to student numbers and schools and distance and bus routes, that type of a thing, and then the third piece, and this is the big one for us, was that there was a funding redevelopment that happened over the last 18 months and it’s being implemented in this budget cycle. So, we’re feeling the full brunt of the funding redevelopment plus those other two factors.”
The school division already has an operational deficit of about $2.7 million from the 2016-17 financial year and along with the reduction in operational funding for 2017-18 it is therefore facing an overall shortfall of about $8.7 million.
“Everything is going to be on the table,” he said about their strategy to accommodate the shortfall. “There isn’t anything that we haven’t looked at yet and to be fair to the board, we need to work with them to look at whatever else we need to add to what we’ve already more or less agreed on to address the additional amount that we need to find.”
The reduction in operational funding for the 2017-18 financial year includes a significant decrease in several areas. The governance budget was reduced by 35.6 per cent, the allocation to supports for learning was reduced by 24 per cent, and the allocation for instructional resources is down by 12 per cent. The amount for transportation is nine per cent lower and there is a 4.3 per cent reduction for plant operation and maintenance.
“We are still given some latitude to move funds around between categories, with the exception of one, which is governance,” Quintin said. “It’s a capped expenditure. So there will be no ability to move funds from other categories to governance. You could actually move funds out of governance into other categories, but you can see by the size of the cut it’s going to be very difficult for that to happen.”
The allocation for governance includes expenses for the board operation, trustees remuneration and travel, the operation of school community councils, and the membership fee to the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.
Caswell noted that the governance budget was already a small portion of the overall Chinook School Division budget before the reduced allocation for 2017-18.
“Currently in this year for example, six tenths of one per cent of our budget goes to the board governance, which includes more than just board members,” he said. “Basically they’re reducing to four tenths of one per cent. So while it’s a big chunk of the money that we spend doing what we do, it’s not a big chunk of money overall.”
He is concerned that the reduced funding to the school division along with the upcoming amendments to the Education Act for shared services will result in increased centralization.
“It always comes back to essentially what to expect from governance,” he said. “In the past we’d be expected to govern large sections of the spending of the operations. ... We’ll see more this summer when they bring their legislation into effect. It seems like a lot of choices are going to be made in Regina now and will not be part of the board reality like they used to be. We don’t know what that is, the details are to be determined. Certainly the intent has been laid out there that more decisions will be made in the department.”

Read 1598 times Last modified on Thursday, 30 March 2017 11:05
Matthew Liebenberg