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Thursday, 20 April 2017 06:24

Chinook School Division implements structural changes

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The Chinook School Division will have to implement significant structural changes, including some staff reductions, to deal with a budget shortfall of 7.3 per cent.


The Chinook School Division is experiencing the largest reduction in operational funding of all 28 school divisions in Saskatchewan. This is due to a combination of a reduced funding allocation in the 2017-18 provincial budget and a review of the educational finance funding model.
Acting Director of Education Kyle McIntyre provided details about the organization’s budget challenge after a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, April 10.
“We have $8.8 million less funding than what we had last year,” he said. “We had a reduction with provincial budget and then we had a reallocation or our supports for learning, which was something done with the funding review with the province. So our supports for learning was cut by 27 per cent, which is $3.7 million.”
He noted the Chinook School Division board and senior administration have been reviewing programs and services for months in anticipation of the expected budget shortfall. The school division will create a new model for service delivery to students due to the reduction in funding for support services for learning.
“We’ve done a cluster reorganization,” he said. “We’ve moved from four clusters of support to three and part of that was a reallocation of staff.”
The school division’s goal was to reduce staff by attrition through retirements and resignations. In other cases, —  there were staff reassignments. Twenty five teaching support staff will be relocated from central office to different schools. Learning coaches will be back in classrooms as teachers and youth workers will be redeployed as educational assistants.
“Our coaching that we had supporting our learning initiatives, those were teachers that we took out of the classroom,” he said. “We trained them up so that they’re experts in their area in literacy and math and as part of that reduction — we’re redeploying them back into schools where they came from.”
Despite these efforts the school division was not able to avoid job losses. Nine people were laid off with notice and severance.
“Some of that was in maintenance; it was in facilities; it was in student services,” he said. “It went all across the division. It wasn’t just one area.”
The central office staff reductions represent a cost reduction of about $1.35 million, and 43 per cent will be senior administration positions. It includes two superintendent positions that will not be replaced, and two learning coordinators, with one retiring and the other returning to a school.
The reduction in support services will have an impact on the availability of professional services such as speech language pathology, occupational therapy, counselling and educational psychology. The Chinook School Division will assist affected staff members to connect with other school divisions that need professional staff.
“We laid off a couple of speech-language pathologists,” he said. “So we reached out to those employees and tried to connect them with those school divisions and see if they’re interested in going there.”
The school division also laid off one of two occupational therapists and it will  try to assist that person to find alternative employment.
“We know that Cypress Health is looking for an occupational therapist,” he said. “So we’re in conversations with Cypress, trying to let them know that here’s what we have for you, perhaps you could hire this person.”
McIntyre emphasized support services will still be available to students, despite the reduction in funding to professional supports for learning.
“It’s going to be different,” he said. “We’re going to have to re-evaluate our present models and look to do things differently. ... We’ve got to sit down and develop some new paradigms, develop some new models, identify what kids need the most and identify a method of how we’re going to deliver that service, but we do still have services available for kids. We’re just going to do a little bit less with less.”
The Chinook School Division’s intention is to limit the impact of budget reductions on the classroom.
In the past, the support services staff travelled extensively throughout the division to visit schools, but now more consideration will have to be given to the effective use of technology.
“We have a world-class network for technology,” he said. “So maybe we have to learn to better leverage our technology to provide supports for kids. Instead of a one-on-one, face-to-face session, it might be a teleconference or it might be a Google Meet.”
One of the challenges for the school division is it will have to find an additional $3.3 million in savings beyond the expected amount. Various options will have to be considered, including greater efficiencies in transportation services and a shift towards the provincial pupil-teacher ratio.
“Right now we enjoy the lowest pupil-teacher ratio in the province,” he said. “We have to do some things to address the gap between what we presently have and where we need to be in terms of our financial recognition. There is a little bit of work that we need to do with our staffing formulas. Probably that is going to be done over time. It is not something that we can do right away.”
For that reason the initial changes being implemented at the moment included a focus on reducing central office supports.
“So we’re all going to work a lot harder here in central office and try and do more things with less personnel,” he said. “We know that won’t impact the classroom as immediately.”
The shift towards the provincial pupil-teacher ratio can have a cost saving of about $3.5 million, but it is not something that can be implemented overnight.
“If we did that immediately our students, our classrooms, our schools and our communities would be absolutely reeling,” he said. “So it’s not realistic to go there immediately, but I think if we try and use things like retirement and attrition and those sorts of things over time that we have a better chance of being less disruptive than going there right away.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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