WEYBURN - There is a fine line between governments being fiscally responsible, and putting people’s futures at risk by cutting back on funding in certain areas.
There have been a few instances come up in recent weeks that show the government needs to be more prudent with fiscal cuts and not so myopic that they don’t see the long-term results of what they’re doing.
The recent provincial budget included funding for school divisions – but clearly not enough, and clearly not the increase they announced would be good for the province’s K-12 school boards.
The government made it sound like there is more money for the classrooms of Saskatchewan, but what they failed to mention was only a part of the increases in costs for school divisions was being covered. The vast majority of school divisions (if not all of them) had deficits as they drew up their budgets for the next school year.
For the two school divisions in the southeast, the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division and Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division, there was a significant shortfall of funds.
This was in spite of the announcement that the two-per-cent salary increase for teachers was covered in the budget. The funding did cover this salary increase, but not the salary increases for non-teaching staff.
In addition, while some funds were provided for Education Assistants (EAs), it really was just a pittance compared to what the needs are. For Holy Family, they will get two more, divided amongst their five schools and hundreds of students, and Cornerstone gets seven, divided amongst 33 schools and over 8,000 students.
What this has meant for many, many school divisions, including the two in the southeast, is they have had to draw down their reserves to balance the budget, because the legislation does not permit school boards to have a deficit in their budgets.
For Cornerstone, this has also meant a cut in staffing numbers for next year, including 23.8 full-time equivalent teachers.
As Holy Family dealt with their budget, the question was asked, “what happens when the reserves run out?”
School boards have reserves as a way to be able to fund projects that are not funded by the government, and as a cushion to operate their schools should they run completely out of money.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that school divisions can no longer raise taxes as they once could, as only the province can set mill rates for property taxes.
To make school divisions use up their emergency funds just to balance their budgets is irresponsible, but only the government can change that situation.