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'Isn’t fair to anyone': Urban Sask. school divisions seek mid-year funding adjustment as enrolment surges

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Saskatchewan school divisions are requesting a mid-year funding adjustment from the ministry of education as enrolment continues to rise.

Since September, both of Regina’s school divisions have seen enough new students for each of them to fill a new school.

“We’ve seen 600 students come to our schools since Sept. 30, when we would have received our funding adjustment. That’s put significant pressures on many aspects of educating those 600 students,” Darren Boldt, the director and CEO of Regina Public Schools, said.

“We have not been able to add staff because of not receiving funding for those students. There’s extra transportation costs, there’s costs all over the place that would be included in trying to provide an education for those students.”

Regina Catholic Schools are also facing those pressures.

“We currently have 450 students in our division who are unfunded,” Shauna Weninger, the board chair for Regina Catholic Schools, said.

This week, the Regina Public School Board received its quarterly financial report.

It read “based on the second quarter forecast, the statement of operations shows an operating deficit on a cash basis of $7.9M – approximately $5.4M higher than the $2.5M budgeted cash deficit.”

The school division said it needs to see more funding – and fast – in order to avoid harsh decisions down the line.

“We’re hoping for some budget adjustments mid-year to help us manage the growth that’s a little bit unprecedented,” Boldt said.

“We want to affect classrooms and learning as much as possible, but with the budget we have we’re going to see impacts across our entire division. We’ll see potentially increased class sizes, we’ll see other areas where we might have to increase fees – it’s going to be very difficult.”

Regina Public Schools said it’s working with the other urban school divisions to request the mid-year adjustment from the ministry. Essentially, the adjustment would take the new students into consideration and offer more money to divisions to reflect that.

“Both of the divisions in Saskatoon are in the same situation. We’ve spoken with their directors and they’re seeing the exact same pressures. A number I’ve seen is roughly 1,700 new students in the four urban school divisions since Sept. 30,” Boldt said.

Currently, the provincial government bases its funding on enrolment numbers as of Sept. 30. School divisions submit enrolment predications in January for the upcoming year.

The Regina school divisions say over the past two years, immigration has created unpredictable enrolment throughout the school year.

“It’s a huge celebration to have immigration of any kind or enrolment growth of any kind,” Weninger said.

“But it isn’t fair to anyone arriving or anyone that’s currently here to not be funded.”

Weninger said it also expands the service needs for schools, as they need to consider increased mental health supports and language barriers.

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) said it’s not surprised some school divisions are calling for the funding adjustment. Enrolment growth, inflation and necessary program development are all adding to financial strain in schools across the province.

“This is just evidence of the kinds of budgets that we’re seeing in Saskatchewan that are predictably short and predictably short sighted. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Jaimie Smith-Windsor, president of the SSBA, said.

“The growth that we’re seeing in classrooms and in schools is a beautiful thing, but it needs to come with the kind of investment that allows boards to provide stability.”

On Thursday, the minister of education said he’s aware of enrolment surges throughout the school year over the past two years.

“Are we going to continue to see school divisions see more students all throughout the school year? If that’s the case, then maybe we do have to look at the way that we adjust and reconcile enrolment,” Dustin Duncan, the minister of education, said.

“I’m certainly willing to have a conversation with the school divisions to see if there is a different process that we need to ensure that funding is really in line where with enrolment growth is.”

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