REGINA — Saskatchewan’s new premier, Scott Moe, had a nice surprise for Saskatchewan school boards Feb. 5. Flanked by new Education Minister Gordon Wyant and Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the premier announced interim financing of $7.5 million dollars for financially hard-pressed school boards and a promise of more to come in the 2018 - 19 budget, which is due April 10.
“We will get about $450,000 of that to direct to our staffing needs,” said Domenic Scuglia, director of Education for the Regina Catholic School Division, shortly after the government’s announcement. The $7.5 million will be distributed to all school divisions according to a formula. “That’s exceptionally good news for us. We will work with the senior team to identify where the gaps and pressures are and how to staff accordingly.”
Scuglia was also pleased at the government’s promise to add $30 million to the 2018 - 19 education budget. The additional $30 million for education was one of the major promises Moe made during his campaign for the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party. The province’s 2017 - 18 education budget was about $1.2 billion dollars. Some of last year’s operating grants were tied to conditions, and school divisions hope that conditionality will be removed in the 2018 - 19 budget.
The day previous to the announcement, a meeting of the division’s electorate was told that last year was a financially tough year and indications were the next fiscal year might be tougher. Scuglia, Chief Financial Officer Curt Van Parys, and board chair Robert Bresciani predicted continued rapid growth in Regina Catholic’s student population, and were concerned that government operating grants may not meet the needs associated with that growth.
“We had a tough time last year and we’re not sure how we’re going to make that work this year,” Bresciani told the meeting.
Van Parys said early indications from the government were pointing to a zero increase and possibly a decrease in the grant for the next fiscal year. All three gave no indication they had advance knowledge of the premier’s announcement.
Scuglia noted that the division’s student population increased by 350 and the forecast for this year is about another 400. Last year’s student population was 11,800. Three new schools came on stream last year, along with the opening of a rebuilt Sacred Heart School. The three new schools were built alongside three new public schools as part of the government’s P3 construction program that constructed 18 new schools in Regina, Saskatoon, Warman, and Martinsville.
In addition to the new schools, another highlight of the past year was that the division continues to perform at or above the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) set out by the Education Ministry, specifically in graduation rates.
“We have the highest graduation rates in the province for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students,” Scuglia said in an interview with the PM. “We are extremely proud of that and of the work our staff do to support our indigenous students to get them to the point where they start to pursue their post-secondary destinations.”