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School divisions divided into 'winners and losers'

Expecting a status quo provincial budget for education funding, one school division benefited from an increase, while another was dealt with a "shocking" decrease of funding.

Expecting a status quo provincial budget for education funding, one school division benefited from an increase, while another was dealt with a "shocking" decrease of funding.

"We are in transition of completing a significant change to the education funding model, as there had been an unfairness in the former way that school divisions were funded," said Donna Harpauer, Education minister for the province. "There were readjustments for enrolment and for inflation, but the mitigating factor for many school divisions is the tax adjustments."

Harpauer explained that they have set the educational mill rate at an equalization of 17.2 across the province, and that will definitely affect the school divisions that had previously been able to "tax over and above that rate."

"From the feedback from the provincial budget, we definitely see that education has a number of shortcomings," contradicted Cam Broten, the NDP education critic. "The main cause of the problem is the Sask. Party's broken promise of providing a long-term funding model. School boards don't plan one year at a time, and have had too many years of transition funding that have basically put them into a limbo situation."

"The budget dealt us quite as surprise, and because of the tax rebalancing we definitely were not one of the winners," said Marc Casavant, director of education for the Southeast Cornerstone School Division. Despite enrollment and inflation adjustments, Cornerstone lost $186,000 from the budget.

"This raises a lot of questions and concerns for us. If there is going to be more tax rebalancing we need advance notice, otherwise we are not going to be able to plan for either the short- or long-term," added Casavant.

The budget release had a different effect for the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division. "We knew that the new education funding model would be delayed until 2012 and expected a status quo budget," said Shelley Rowein, director of education. Holy Family received a slight increase at 1.66 per cent, or roughly $170,000.

This increase for Holy Family was through adjustments for their enrollment and for inflation at a base level. "That funding will allow us to address changes that might happen in the school division," noted Rowein.

"Cornerstone is operating in a high-assessment area of the province, and when their board had the power of setting the mill rate it was at 23," said Harpauer. "That is why they didn't receive the amount they had hoped for."

"The other factor is the fiscal year of the school division does not line up with the fiscal year of the government," explained Harpauer. "They are reporting a decrease of $187,000 in their school fiscal year, but for the government fiscal year they are receiving a 0.98 per cent increase, or $827,000."

Another concern raised by Cornerstone is how the province will handle the LINK contracts that are occurring with teaching staff currently. "During the last year we renegotiated contracts with six different employee groups, and all of them received more money," said Casavant, noting that the school division had not expected to lose money in the budget. "That has left us with less money as a result."

Harpauer commented that the reason why no amount for teaching contracts was in the budget was because that contract is still being negotiated. She did note that "we will be funding it 100 per cent when the contracts are finalized by both parties."

Casavant added that it was not only Cornerstone who had been hit hard by the provincial budget. "The school divisions of Cornerstone, Chinook, Prairie South, Living Sky, Prairie Valley and Horizon were all hit to the tune of $5 million, and half of that affected Chinook and our school division. We need to know why this happened, especially when you consider that it was these same school divisions that contributed a significant portion to the economy."

"There is a fairly large disparity between funding to public and Catholic school divisions," noted Broten. "We also see that school boards with larger enrollments are facing increased costs, and that the rural divisions have much different costs than the city divisions do."

"A funding model needs to be in place that treats all school divisions fairly," added Broten. "The only reason that the Sask. Party made the decision to delay the announcement of their funding model for education is because it is an election year."

"We are going to be working on the new funding model with the school divisions, and helping them handle the financial differences," said Harpauer.