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Rising costs a concern for Sask. school divisions despite 'record' education funding

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School boards in Saskatchewan said they are being forced to make difficult decisions that could ultimately lead to unwanted cuts, as expenses continue to rise.

The Saskatchewan NDP said the province's education budget does not keep up with inflationary costs and many school divisions will not be able to maintain the status quo.

“There’s nothing left to cut, school divisions do everything they can to make sure these bad education budgets don’t impact the classroom, but at some point, they will impact the classroom,” NDP MLA Matt Love said.

One of the current concerns is rising fuel costs and the effects on transportation.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan said transportation costs range between two per cent and 13 per cent within a school boards’ budget.

“It is a relatively small portion of the budget, depending on the school division you’re talking about, but six months from now, what the price of oil and the cost of gasoline will be is really hard to predict,” Duncan said.

The 2022-23 education budget included a $29.4 million increase (from 2021-22) in operational funding for school divisions, with a spending total of $1.99 billion.

Both Saskatoon Catholic and Public school divisions have penned letters to the province to express their concerns with possible shortfalls, saying the increase to the 2022-23 education budget is not enough.

Duncan said he has not spoken to the school divisions in Saskatoon since before the budget was presented.

The minister said there are ways that cost savings can be found, including relying on the turnover numbers of teachers, which he said includes long-serving higher-paid teachers retiring every year, with new teachers coming in who ultimately are making less money.

“We know that every year there is retiring teachers who are at the top of the [pay] grid, who are replaced by teachers that are new and they would be at the lower end of the grid,” he said.

Duncan also said reserves are another option, both open and restricted.

“This is not equally spread but school divisions just on unrestricted reserves alone are sitting on about $140 million between the 27 school divisions and on top of that there is restricted reserves as well that bring that number much higher,” Duncan said.

He added ultimately, when school divisions look at how they’ll be managing their budgets that “may or may not include drawing on some reserves this year.”

“I think that is really disappointing to hear from the minister of education,” Love said, when asked about Duncan’s comments on reserve funds.

“They already have looked at their reserves. When school divisions challenge this budget they do that with full knowledge of what’s in their reserves.”

Love said from what he’s heard, school divisions have already had to dip into reserves in years past.

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