Saskatchewan's NDP Opposition says the provincial government needs to provide $50 million in "emergency" funding to school divisions before budgets are finalized at month's end.
Opposition education critic Matt Love held a news conference outside Saskatoon's Aden Bowman Collegiate on Friday.
Love and the NDP want the government to help divisions avoid cuts to jobs and programs.
Some school divisions have also added fees to parents for lunchroom supervision for the upcoming year.
"There's still a little time left in the school year for Minister [Dustin] Duncan to submit some quality work to get back to a passing grade. I'm calling on Minister Duncan and Premier [Scott] Moe to commit to an emergency funding package for Saskatchewan schools in the amount of $50 million," Love said.
Love said the province cannot afford to wait months before acting.
"Now is not the time to sit back and monitor, it's the time to support our school divisions and to support our kids in the classroom. We know there are already huge cuts coming to teacher positions and all the other important positions," Love said.
A handful of Saskatchewan school divisions, including Saskatoon's public and Catholic systems, have announced they will be cutting staff positions and charging parents for lunchroom supervision.
Love said inflation is also playing a role in added costs to school divisions.
"The four largest divisions in our province spent nearly $30 million on transportation last year. Of course, inflation will be affecting that. It will have a negative impact on what's available for classroom learning," Love said.
Retired educators Kevin and Tannis Schmidt joined Love.
"It's been very disappointing to watch both the minister and the premier dismiss the knowledge and the needs mentioned by school boards and teachers," Kevin said.
Kevin said the government does not understand that boards cannot keep going to reserves to make up for deficits.
"We as teachers, when we had students that didn't understand, we encouraged them to ask questions and seek out expertise to develop understanding. I feel that that's what's been neglected. There's been a lack of understanding from this government and they need to seek out the expertise," Tannis said.
Government suggests divisions spend reserves
Last Friday, upon return from a trade trip to New York and Washington, D.C., Moe said school divisions should not charge parents for lunchroom supervision and instead should draw money from reserves.
"I would agree that it's not sustainable, but I would argue that if they are looking at invoicing parents, they should look at using reserves."
Moe said "in general" reserves have been growing the past three or four years "across the school divisions."
"We would ask them to look at that in the short term."
Moe said divisions have until June 30 to submit their budgets to Education Minister Dustin Duncan.
"Ultimately, we would also ask them to look at using all of the resources they have, including their reserves. If they're having challenges this particular year."
Moe said the government has not looked at an interim injection of money to divisions.
"We haven't had that discussion as we haven't had the the the individual school divisions, budgets have not all been submitted," Moe said.
"I would think that the minister of education will be discussing if there are any particular challenges to individual school divisions at that point in time."
Last week, Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Shawn Davidson said some but not all 27 school divisions saw reserves increase during the pandemic.
Davidson said some have had to use some of those funds in recent years due to the province's "chronic underfunding of education."
He said reserve money was often designated for specific one-time projects and can't be used to balance the books.
Ministry of Education responds
The Ministry of Education released a statement to CBC Friday in response to the NDP's request for additional funding.
"Some of the budgets indicate the staff and positions being removed are fewer than the number created with temporary pandemic funding," the statement said.
The government said the funding bumps provided during the pandemic from both the province and Ottawa were intended for temporary positions and "were never intended to be permanent."
It said the ministry is looking at how reductions would impact student-to-teacher ratios and other services from pre-pandemic levels.
The government said Friday that if funds are available through windfall resource revenue, "we will decide as a province what additional supports may be available."
LISTEN | School funding was one of topics on CBC Saskatchewan's political panel Friday: