“It is worse than we thought,” said Chinook School Division’s Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin.
The Chinook School Board has been planning the budget for months now, preparing for the cuts they knew were coming.
However, they were not prepared for just how much their budget would be cut when the provincial budget came down March 22.
“The actual funding reduction is actually significantly greater than we had planned. Now we are in a place where we have to go back and plan some more to accommodate the additional amount,” said Quintin.
The funding cut specifically to Chinook is $3.3 million more than the division had planned for.
This year’s operational funding from the government for the school division is $5.94 million, 7.3 per cent less then the previous year.
The operational budget for this fiscal year was already a deficit. The board is looking at trying to fill the deficit plus the steep cuts from the government.
“We are sitting with about a $6 million cash shortfall from the allocation, plus the additional $2.7 million we had carried forward from last year,” Quintin said.
The school board planned for about a $5.4 million hole to fill this year, but it is actually closer to an $8.7 million hole.
Chinook saw such a large reduction in government funding for a couple of reasons, according to Quintin.
There was a general cut to government funding in the education sector, Chinook sees changes in the school profile based on student numbers and number and distances of the schools, but the big contribution was the funding redevelopment put in place over the last 18 months.
The funding redevelopment was put into place with the 2017-18 provincial budget.
“We are feeling the full brunt of the funding redevelopment plus those other two factors,” Quintin said.
The board will be looking at ways to cut operational costs, which will be hard as the school division already has cost saving measures in place.
Quintin said everything is on the table when looking at saving money within the division.
“There isn’t anything we haven’t looked at yet,” Quintin said. “We need to work with the Board to look at whatever else we have to add to whatever else we have already agreed to, to address the additional amount we need to find.”
The board’s goal is to minimize the impact the deficit will have in the classroom. They will do this by looking at other cost saving measures outside of the classroom.
“We would like to limit the damage as much as possible,” said board member Larry Caswell. “We would like to say there will be no damage, but obviously the constraints we have been put under will be very difficult.
“I don’t think we can guarantee there will be no damage.”
A problem seen is the suggested cost saving measures given by the government have been implemented within Chinook for the last two years. One such measure was to share bus routes.
Chinook has shared bus routes within Swift Current with the Holy Trinity Catholic School Division for the last two years.
“It is hard to implement new measures when you are already scraping the barrel,” Quintin said.
Chinook is looking at changing lighting in the schools to LED, which will drastically reduce electricity bills in the division and a transportation equipment overhaul which will reduce the consumption of fuel and oil.
“The problem with both of those is there is an upfront cost. Where will we find the money to do it is what we are trying to figure out?” Quintin asked.
It is possible Chinook will be able to access reserve funds from the government.
“We would look at that before we do too much damage, but it’s unlikely we would have long term access to that reserve,” said Caswell.
Chinook will be investigating all avenues going forward to adjust to the large cuts made to the school division, which may include reductions in staff.
“Nothing is for sure right now, but we will be looking at all options,” said Quintin.