The chronic underfunding of school boards is having a decided impact on division operations and programming. That’s the view of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) as it wrestles with a modest increase in funding that fails to meet the growing system’s needs. It’s the reason the board decided to institute a policy for its Saskatoon city schools of charging a fee for students who stay at school over the noon hour. The idea is to offset costs of noon hour supervision, a necessary service, but one that will be partially funded through fees as opposed to operating budget dollars.
GSCS operates St. Dominic and St. Augustine Schools in Humboldt and has a joint operations agreement in place for Humboldt Collegiate. Board Chair Diane Boyko confirms that the fee will not be levied to parents in Humboldt, Biggar, Martensville or Warman, the other rural communities in which GSCS operates. In Saskatoon however, a $70 charge per year for each child is what parents will have to pay if their children wish to remain at school over the lunch hour.
“For years, we’ve seen school budgets erode,” says Boyko. “We’ve been working hard to make some of those tough decisions that have stayed away from having to impact students as much as it’s going to this year. They’ve finally noticed those reductions in services, and they are going to notice them this year as well.”
One of the immediate impacts for the system will be a reduction in staff of approximately 20 full time positions. This move is in spite of projections for 400 additional students division wide. It’s simply a matter of balancing a budget while providing as many of the essential services as possible. Boyko says that those cuts will be determined on the basis of enrollment, and while Humboldt’s numbers are holding their own, there are no guarantees that area schools will be left unaffected.
“We’re projecting stability for schools in Humboldt and Biggar. We won’t be able to speculate at this point, but we’ll see in September. Half of the schools within our division may see some teacher reduction. We’re going to do the best we can with the circumstances we have.”
Not all decisions made by the board in the past couple of months have been directly tied to funding, notes Boyko. The recent decisions to abandon the French instruction programs in St. Dominic and St. Augustine school was more a matter of interest and available instructors.
“The decisions for programming are dependent on the number of students enrolled and the families that feel it’s something their students would benefit from, explains Boyko. “It was just determined that there wasn’t enough uptake in that program. Part of that is also staff, and the difficulty of having French teachers is something the division works hard at, but struggles with.”
The decision to cease the programs came at the regular GSCS board meeting in April.
Education Minister Dustin Duncan has said that conversations continue with school boards over funding, but as yet, the province has made no adjustments to its budgeted amounts to cover any shortfalls. Meanwhile, other urban school divisions, including Saskatoon Public have made similar fee adjustments. While Humboldt parents may not be subject to the noon hour fees, they can expect to feel the perceived funding shortfall in other ways.