Living Sky struggles with big deficit following provincial cuts

By Angela Brown
April 20, 2017 - 4:29pm Updated: April 21, 2017 - 8:43am

Living Sky School Division is facing the proposal of eliminating positions as it struggles to cope with the burden of a hefty $6 million deficit on its books, as the board sits down to review the new budget.

The division started with about $3 million in the red, in what the director of education refers to as a structural deficit, from the prior year.

The school division board met last week to discuss how to deal with the issue while reviewing a proposal for cuts for the school division’s 2017-18 school-year operating budget.

“It came as a shock, definitely,” Education Director Dave Hutchinson said on discovering the province’s budget meant a 4.6 per cent decrease in operating grant funding for the division for the school year ahead.

He said dealing with a $6 million deficit is the most difficult challenge he has had to face in his career.

Administration provided a proposal for reducing expenses to the board at its last meeting. The board will be reviewing the report over the weeks ahead before making any decisions.

As part of the proposal, staff recommended eliminating 20 educational assistant positions and 15 teacher positions, among the staff reductions suggested, to save a total of $3.53 million.

“We don’t know what the board is going to accept,” Hutchinson said.

“There will be some impact; we are still trying to minimize the impact as best as we can,” the director added. “We’re doing the best we can to maintain a high level of support for our students.”

Hutchinson stressed these positions will be reduced through attrition, not through layoffs.

Administration also proposed reducing non-staff expenses such as some program and budget expenses for a $1.21 million savings.

Combined with borrowing $1.35 million from reserves, the division could reduce its costs by $6.09 million net in total to cover the deficit.

While the province indicated in its March budget school divisions in Saskatchewan would receive 1.2 per cent average reduction in their operating grant funding, for Living Sky School Division for the school year budget for 2017-18 that worked out to a 4.6 per cent decrease in funding, which came as a big surprise for the division.

That is even before the school division tries to respond to the province’s other challenge to find 3.5 per cent in employee wage reductions in the next couple of years. The education director added a big challenge is pondering how to reduce teacher salaries where legalities prevent the division from renegotiating signed contracts. He added the division is still waiting for more information from the province on this issue.

“We’re trying to juggle all of this as we create a balanced budget for the upcoming year,” he said.

Another challenge for the division is an announcement by the Ministry of Education concerning governance changes for school divisions in the province that would allow the province to have more authority in giving direction to school boards.


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