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Fact-check: Most Sask. school divisions not sitting on cash

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Premier Scott Moe stated colleges “typically” had racked up financial savings within the final three to 4 years. Monetary paperwork present in any other case.

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Saskatchewan colleges have misplaced of tens of thousands and thousands in financial savings since 2017 as divisions dip into money reserves to cowl what they call a growing gap in provincial funding.

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A StarPhoenix evaluation discovered faculty division reserves have dropped roughly 30 per cent since 2017, despite public claims by Premier Scott Moe that “in general” those same divisions’ savings grew in the same time period.

These reserves have turn out to be the newest battleground in a disagreement between faculty divisions and the provincial authorities.

Divisions across the province are cutting teacher positions, imposing new fees and saying they must do less with more as a result of provincial working funding isn’t maintaining with rising prices.

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Final week, Moe argued most divisions have “ample reserves” to attract from.

“In the event that they’re invoicing dad and mom, they need to take a look at utilizing reserves earlier to doing that. They’ve reserves. They’ve been rising over the course of the final three or 4 years, typically,” he stated.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says school divisions should tap into their reserves before charging parents fees to cover expenses.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says faculty divisions ought to faucet into their reserves earlier than charging dad and mom charges to cowl bills. Photograph by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Audited monetary statements from the 27 divisions present fewer than half had a internet enhance to their reserves between 2017 and 2021, regardless of a $155 million injection of provincial and federal cash to offset the impression of the COVID-19 pandemic. Total, 26 divisions’ unrestricted reserve funds fell from $221.8 million to $136 million in that point interval.

The evaluation excludes Regina’s Catholic division, which makes use of completely different phrases in its audited accounting statements and couldn’t present an interview to elucidate the distinction by press time. If its “contingency fund” is counted within the evaluation for each years, faculty divisions nonetheless noticed a decline of about $62 million.

The provincial authorities’s personal estimates present divisions’ unrestricted reserves declined from $204.5 million to $145.3 million in 2021.

And whereas some nonetheless have cash to spare, most divisions — together with the 5 largest within the province —  already burned by means of many of the reserves they’d, and should now make cuts so as to current a balanced funds, which is required by regulation. Twenty of the 27 divisions had lower than $5 million in unrestricted reserves, as of their final printed monetary statements.

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“It’s not sustainable. And I’m not fully certain what the endgame is,” Good Spirit Faculty Division training director Quintin Robertson stated.

DWINDLING SAVINGS

A lot of the colleges’ money reserves are earmarked for particular tasks, however in addition they maintain “unrestricted” reserves — surpluses they will spend on no matter they please.

Lately, Robertson stated they’ve been a lifeline for his division, which serves 26 colleges in rural and concrete communities in southeastern Saskatchewan. Digging into these reserves has helped when provincial cash doesn’t cowl a “plethora” of rising prices, however they’re additionally an alternative choice to debt when the division must make a big buy, he stated.

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They’re working out.

As of 2021, Good Spirit reported $5.9 million in unrestricted reserves. Robertson stated it faces a $1.5 million deficit funds this yr. The rise to the province’s $1.99 billion working funds for training largely coated the 2 per cent lecturers wage hike the federal government accredited.

With the rising price of gas, inflation and different bills, remaining reserves gained’t final lengthy, Robertson stated.

“The present charges counsel we’ll be with out reserves in two to a few years. That’s once we must do main workers reductions.”

Training Minister Dustin Duncan has argued it’s applicable for divisions to attract down reserves. The province took a fiscal beating over the primary two years of the pandemic, because it was anticipated to ramp up spending in lots of areas at the same time as useful resource revenues declined.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan.
Training Minister Dustin Duncan. Photograph by TROY FLEECE /Regina Chief-Submit

A rebound in these revenues saved the province from passing what was anticipated to be an eye-watering $2.2 billion deficit in the latest funds (it ended up being projected at $463 million).

Duncan acknowledged not all divisions have the cash.

“They’re not equally distributed among the many faculty divisions. Some faculty divisions have a reasonably wholesome steadiness once you take a look at it within the context of their total funds. Different divisions, when it comes to their unrestricted reserves, don’t have a lot to go on,” he instructed radio host John Gormley.

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Among the many have-nots is Saskatoon Public Colleges, the biggest division within the province. Its unrestricted reserves dwindled from $8.8 million in 2017 to $3.6 million by final yr. The board voted this month to chop greater than 24 positions and begin charging a $100 lunch-hour supervision charge to cowl the hole.

Such budgets are nonetheless topic to provincial approval.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools followed with its own cuts and fee. Board chair Diane Boyko argued it was the end result of years of budgets that haven’t stored up with inflation, rising enrolment and different prices.

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools building.
The Larger Saskatoon Catholic Colleges constructing. Photograph by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

“Claims of report funding and will increase usually are not false, however they conceal the truth that will increase don’t totally cowl enrolment progress, inflation or contractual will increase to all job classifications, not to mention the extra pupil helps we need to add,” Boyko wrote within the division’s 2022-23 working funds.

The brand new charges drew a rebuke from Moe, who instructed reporters it was “perplexing” that divisions would cost dad and mom new charges earlier than drawing on reserves.

Saskatchewan Faculty Boards Affiliation president Dr. Shawn Davidson chalks it as much as a misunderstanding.

“I believe there’s a basic misunderstanding on the character of reserves inside faculty divisions on the a part of authorities. I’m going to take some accountability for that. We’re educators. Why can’t we educate our major stakeholders on one of many major components of our enterprise?” he stated.

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LEVELLING OUT

Even faculty divisions with a number of financial savings are tightening their belts and making cuts as a result of they don’t know if or when provincial funding will enhance.

The South East Cornerstone faculty division held $22.3 million in unrestricted reserves in 2021 — a decline from $32.3 million in 2017, however nonetheless greater than some other division within the province. In an interview, Duncan touted the division, which he represents, for example of 1 with cash within the financial institution.

Nonetheless, since 2016, South East Cornerstone has elevated its class sizes, lowered faculty and athletics budgets and reduce a variety of instructor and assist positions, together with the equal of practically 22 educating jobs within the coming educational yr.

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The board ran a $4.5 million deficit within the newest fiscal yr and used reserves to cowl a $2.5 million shortfall within the subsequent one. They are saying it will have been $6 million had they not made cuts. By the top of the 2022-23 fiscal yr, they count on to have simply $14 million in that reserve fund.

“Reductions to classroom lecturers was the final place the Board went and as our funding has not returned to the extent we noticed in 2015-2016, they determined to regulate classroom lecturers at a fee that may very well be accommodated by means of attrition (21.8 FTE) as an alternative of ready till there was no cash left and we have been confronted with a mass lay-off of educating workers,” CFO Shelley Toth wrote in an emailed assertion.

Duncan and Moe have publicly stated it’s not sustainable for boards to maintain dipping into reserves, however they haven’t publicly signalled whether or not working {dollars} will return to the degrees seen earlier than 2016. Davidson stated that’s one of many key points faculty boards face.

“For us, there isn’t a predictability in our funding. We go yr to yr. We by no means know what the funds goes to seem like one yr to the following,” he stated.

Davidson stated the monetary statements on which the StarPhoenix based mostly its evaluation paint a very rosy image of college funds. As a result of colleges obtain provincial funding over 12 months and spend many of the cash within the 10 months of the tutorial yr, their August monetary summaries typically present them at their “absolute most,” he famous.

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For Robertson, the large query is the way it all ends.

“I’m not wishing to color the federal government in a foul gentle. I’m not wishing to get in battles with our elected officers … I believe it’s a misunderstanding across the nature of reserves and the way they’re getting used on the faculty division stage. We’re not sitting on large quantities of cash across the province.”

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