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Thursday, 22 February 2018 06:13

Chinook prepares for next budget while using interim funds for current deficit

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The provincial government's allocation of additional mid-year school funding to Saskatchewan school divisions will help the Chinook School Division to deal with a deficit during the current financial year.

Premier Scott Moe and Education Minister Gordon Wyant announced on Feb. 6 that the province will provide $7.5 million in mid-year school funding to school divisions. The Ministry of Education is using the current education funding formula, which is based on 2017-18 school year data, to determine the amount allocated to each school division.
For the two school divisions in southwest Saskatchewan the funding allocations are $296,800 to the Chinook School Division and $87,000 to the Holy Trinity Catholic School Division.
Rod Quintin, the Chinook School Division's chief financial officer, spoke to the media about the use of the additional funding after a regular Chinook board meeting, Feb. 12.
“It will be used to offset part of our deficit in our current year,” he said. “We’ve been monitoring where we’re at in terms of this year’s budget implementation and we’re pretty much right on. So what it would really result in is that our deficit would be reduced.”
He noted that the school division's budget for the 2017-18 financial year, which started on Sept. 1, 2017 and ends on Aug. 31, 2018, is a difficult one and there will be a deficit.
“We had to make a number of tough decisions,” he said. “Most of our cuts were made out of the classroom. The staffing cuts in particular were either at the central office or central supports. So we appreciate the money. We absolutely appreciate getting the money, because it does help us alleviate what we believe is about a $2.7 million deficit in this current year.”
The Chinook School Division has already started the planning process for the 2018-19 budget in preparation for the announcement of the provincial budget on April 10.
“At this point we’re waiting for more information to prepare our 2018-19 budget,” he said. “Obviously we’ve got some challenges ahead of us, and we’ve been doing some planning, but we’re very careful to await as much information as we can before we start to move on finalizing our plans.”
The school division's goal is to return to a balanced budget over the next two budget years and the budget allocation in the upcoming provincial budget will therefore make a significant difference to their planning.
“We have direction from the board to address the deficit over a two-year period to get to a balance for 2019-20, and so that’s our framework that we’re working within,” Quintin said. “What we don’t know is the exact number of dollars that we may receive in the April budget announcement. So we can do some preliminary planning based on assumptions, but until you actually know the number, your planning still remains somewhat preliminary. We’ve been upfront in terms of telling our public that we haven’t got a lot more room to work outside of the classroom in terms of making adjustments for cost. We’re pretty much limited now to things that are more or less classroom related. All that being said, we’re continuing to try and find ways to offset part of that at least for next year.”
Acting Director of Education Kyle McIntyre, who will become the Chinook School Division's new director of education on April 1, said the school division will use available resources to do what is best for students.
“Part of my responsibility is to work with provincial politicians and the leadership in the ministry to try to make sure that the needs of kids in the southwest are served well, and one of my roles would be to advocate for adequate funding for our schools and for our students,” he said. “Certainly it’s going to be challenging and we know it’s a challenging time right now, not only for our division, but also for the province. The key is being able to work with the different stakeholders to continue to get what you need to be successful and that may look a little bit different than it has in the past.”
In preparation for the upcoming provincial budget announcement on April 10, which will include details about the funding allocation to school divisions, the Chinook School Division has formed a program and personnel review focus group that included teachers, coordinators and administrators. The group of 20 individuals looked at four areas during their discussions – existing staffing levels, the staffing formula, the Chinook learning initiatives and assessments, as well as course opportunities for students.
“We brought them in to discuss what are the things that are working in our division right now, what are the things that we should probably stop doing, what are the things that we should innovate, and what are the things that we should abandon right now,” McIntyre explained. “It was a great opportunity to hear from people in our division and get feedback right from a group that’s directly involved in the field.”
He noted that the discussion was not so much about money, but more about how to continue to support teachers and students with the resources that are available to the school division.
“We identified that we’re doing lots of great things, but if our resources and our supports change, we can’t expect teachers to continue to do everything that they’re doing,” he said. “So if we had to take something off a teacher’s plate, what would that be? They gave us some feedback and some direction around that. So we’re going to form some additional committees and we’re going to look at school timetable, because there’s a real need to make sure that kids in very community are getting the core courses that they require.”
Other issues that will receive attention through the committee work will be high school programming and course selection, as well as the role and use of report cards.
At the moment teachers are dedicating a lot of time to the preparation of report cards.
“Our elementary report cards are outcome based and they take a lot of time and effort for teachers to complete, but I don’t know if all that stuff is useful for parents,” he said. “So our focus groups said whatever you do, form a group, make some recommendations around elementary and high school report cards, the content that’s on it, the frequency in which we require reporting, and what are some other online opportunities that parents have to find out how their kids are doing.”
McIntyre submitted the recommendations from the focus group discussions to board members at their Feb. 12 meeting. The board's response and decision on these recommendations will be relayed back to the focus group.
“We'll kind of get their final feedback and direction, and then once I hear from them, we'll send it out and let our teachers know that's going to occur,” he said. “So ideally that work will probably start with the additional groups in March and April with the idea of implementing something for the fall.”

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Matthew Liebenberg