Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools planning for lunchtime supervision fees in Sept.

·5 min read
The number of teachers at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools will decrease by 19.5 FTE (full-time equivalent) for 2022-23, according to the school division's most recent budget.  (James Hopkin/CBC - image credit)
The number of teachers at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools will decrease by 19.5 FTE (full-time equivalent) for 2022-23, according to the school division's most recent budget. (James Hopkin/CBC - image credit)

Another school division in the province will start charging parents for lunchtime supervision, something Saskatchewan's premier criticized last week, saying schools should draw instead from their "ample reserves."

On Monday, the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School (GSCS) board passed the division's 2022-23 budget, announcing it would cut 19.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the fall and bring in a lunch supervision fee for elementary school students in the city.

"The education minister has mentioned that there are ample reserves in many, if not all, of the school divisions across the province," said Scott Moe on Friday, just days after Saskatoon Public Schools announced cuts to staffing and a new $100-per-child lunchtime supervision fee for kids not going home during the lunch hour. 

"Before a school division is going to charge parents additional dollars for four noon hour recess … they most certainly should be looking at using some of the reserves that have been growing in the last few years."

GSCS will implement a $70 per year per student fee for lunch supervision, or $7 per month, the school division explained in a document to parents and staff.

Families of half-time kindergarten students will have to pay $35 per year, and fees will be capped at $140 per family.

Regina's Catholic schools are also adding new fees for lunchtime supervision, while the Regina Public School Division has been charging fees for six years.

Some divisions in debt, says school boards association

While Moe said he was speaking about all divisions in general, not every school in the province might have cash reserves to dip into.

"Some of the boards that have had to make some of those more difficult decisions have already drawn down their reserves over the course of the last … five years of chronic underfunding of education," said Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

"Some of them did have some larger savings that they are able to draw on. And those divisions that do have those reserves are largely doing that."

Some school divisions in Saskatchewan not only have no reserve funds to tap into right now, they actually have to deal with debt, said Davidson

"It is unfair to brand everyone with the same brush and say, 'Oh well, just spend your reserves,'" he said.

The association as well as school divisions across the province have expressed their concerns about the province's spending on education when it was announced in the Saskatchewan government's budget in March.

The province's education budget for the upcoming fiscal year was $3.8 billion, an increase of $47.2 million, or 1.3  per cent from the previous year.

For GSCS, this means $3.85 million more than last year, but the bulk is set to cover negotiated salary increases, according to the school division.

In addition, GSCS is expecting 400 more students in the upcoming academic year, and the increases in revenue aren't keeping up with the rise in expenses, according to Diane Boyko, chair of the city's Catholic school board.

"We have had to tap into funds to be able to balance the budget," she said.

"We're using $1.33 million in restricted reserves to cover these short term expenses like curricular renewal, IT infrastructure, full-day ever day kindergarten that we have."

After next year, GSCS will only have $4 million of reserve funds to be spent on balancing budgets and is feeling pushed against the wall, said Boyko.

More money during pandemic, says premier

Moe noted last week that Saskatchewan school divisions in general saw an increase in reserves, in particular last year and during the time when the province was working its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

That bump was due to additional dollars from the federal and provincial governments, he said.

While Davidson confirms that reserves increased during the pandemic, the money was often designated for specific one-time projects, he said.

"We saw divisions make some one-time capital investments with that, whether it was investment in information technology, investment in electronic equipment, school buses, facilities maintenance projects, the list goes on and on."

Saskatoon Public Schools
Saskatoon Public Schools

Not all money in reserves can be used for everything.

External reserves, for example, are restricted by the Ministry of Education, such as funds for major capital projects, explained Davidson

"A fairly small percentage of the whole thing would be unrestricted, which is the kind of the rainy day fund," he said.

"Unfortunately, of the 27 divisions, the majority of our members don't have significant unrestricted operating reserves."

The premier acknowledged that drawing on reserves is not a sustainable solution in the long run, but neither is invoicing parents, he said.

In its budget, GSCS says the net funding shortfall for the division was $3 million because of inflationary costs.

Despite the additional money from the province, the per-student funding for 2022-23 is expected to be 0.03 per cent, or around $3.49 more per student, according to the document.

Cutting 19.5 full-time equivalent teachers means that, for the first time in over a decade, the actual classroom load – a calculation of students in school compared to teachers – will rise for some elementary schools, GSCS says.

The two Saskatoon school divisions together – GSCS and Saskatoon Public Schools – have announced a cut of 39.1 FTE teachers in the city.

"The erosion that's been happening and, you know, that we've been forced to cut back on things, it isn't a good feeling," said Boyk.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting