Chinook concerned by deeper than expected budget cuts

Chinook School Division

The Chinook School Division is disappointed they have to sharpen their pencils again to make additional spending cuts after receiving $5.94 million less than a year ago from the 2017-2018 Saskatchewan budget.

A preliminary analysis of the budget numbers showed Chinook was receiving approximately $75 million from the province, down from around $81 million a year ago. This overall $5.94 million reduction represents a 7.3 per cent drop in funding.
Chinook School Division Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin noted that Chinook was already preparing to streamline operations by approximately $2.6 million in anticipation of a previously indicated cut, but they were not prepared for this significant reduction.
“We had been planning for some months to accommodate funding reductions based on information we had at the time. The actual funding reduction is significantly higher than we had planned. So now we are at a place where we have to go back and plan some more to address the additional amount, roughly $3.3 million more than we had planned for.”
The division, in cooperation with the board of education, now has to make a series of further decision to address this unexpected shortfall.
“Everything,” Quinton said in response to strategies being explored to create savings. “Everything is going to be on the table. There isn’t anything that we haven’t looked at yet.”
Quintin said the funding reduction came about as a result of the combined impact of the province’s general cut, changes to Chinook’s student populations, and a funding re-development which has been occurring over the past 18 months. The full impact of this funding re-development takes full effect in this budget cycle.
Chinook, which received the highest reduction of funds in the province, highlighted their Supports for Learning has reduced by 24 per cent, Instruction Resources dropped by 12 per cent, and the division also has to adjust to nine per cent less in Transportation funding, along with a 4.3 per cent drop in Plant Operation and Maintenance.
“A lot of the impact was related to our School Division being more dispersed – smaller schools, less occupied schools – as compared to other places where there are a lot less dispersed with larger, higher populated schools.”
The possibility of staffing reductions are a reality, as the Division begins to explore all avenues of cost reductions.
“Once you start to get to the numbers like we have right now, it’s going to be more and more difficult to minimize the impact on the classroom,” Quinton explained.
“There will probably be some adjustments in staffing, and some of them were already planned. It’s too soon to say, but there may need to be more adjustments in staffing depending on where the board chooses to go.”
Quinton said this bundle of information is still being analyzed, and after checking for accuracy they will be taking the next steps, starting with meeting with the board to address this budget shortfall.
Chinook School Division Board Chair Larry Caswell is concerned the funding cut will result in a centralization of services.
“I think we’ll try to limit the damage as much as it’s possible to do it,” Caswell said.
“From where we stand today, we would like to say there will be no damage. Obviously, the constraints we’ve been placed under are very difficult and I don’t think we can guarantee there will be no damage. The cutbacks are just too severe to guarantee that.”
In unveiling the educational funding levels in the budget, the provincial government added that amendments to The Education Act will be made in an effort to control education sector spending. These amendments will help to create a framework for shared services and consistency in areas such as procurement, busing, payroll, and salary range for school division administrators and elected trustees. The creation of a shared services initiative would help capture increased efficiencies through bulk purchases, and a consistent compensation framework for school divisions.
“It seems like a lot of choices are going to be made in Regina now and will not be part of the board reality like it used to be,” Caswell said. “Details are being determined. Certainly the intent has been laid out there that more decisions will be made in the department.”
He is concerned these budgetary cuts are simply a form of centralization of operations and spending.
“It has the potential to be that,” Caswell said. “We don’t know what our choices are until they determine what their’s are.”
While Chinook’s governance budget was cut by 35.6 per cent, he notes that it accounts for just 6/10th of one per cent of Chinook’s budget being spent on board members and supports.
“While it’s a big chunk of the money that we spend doing what we do, it’s not a big chunk of money overall. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why that’s got the big prominence that it did.”