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Regina Catholic cut projects, eyeing lunch costs to balance budget

Due to year-over-year reductions, changes to “stuff, not staff” become the answer to balancing the books.

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West told the Leader-Post earlier this spring that the division’s staff was as lean as possible, which means budget cuts will have to be about “things, not people.”

“We cut where things can be cut,” West said at the time.

And this fact has remained true.

According to a preliminary report presented to Board Trustees on June 6, keeping the 2022-23 budget out of the red will require additional program changes to cover where funding “ran out” to deal with pressures from 3, $2 million.

The Regina Catholic Church is set to receive an increase of $1.014 million, or 1%, in operating funding from the province, which is less than the 1.5% increase in the provincial budget due to a decrease registrations.

West said it was a “difficult decision” for administrators to consider program cuts, but year-over-year deficits have limited remaining options.

“The most important outcome for us is our students,” West said. “We want all families to know that we are still taking care of what needs to be taken care of, but funding is down and it is getting harder and harder.”

Like many other divisions, Regina Catholic reported growing inflationary pressures, including transportation, utility and insurance costs.

“When you run out of people to cut, what do you do?” West says. “They don’t charge less because we fill the school buses.”

A total of 10.5 teaching positions will be cut as online students are sent back to classrooms and enrollment declines. Minor renovation projects will be scaled back and the Newcomer Welcome Center, previously located downtown, is moving into an available classroom at Holy Rosary Community School, to ease the lease commitment.

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School trustees are also considering implementing lunch supervision fees for students, similar to other divisions, including Regina Public Schools and Saskatoon’s two school divisions.

The new fee, charging elementary students $70 and kindergarten students $35, would cover the $300,000 annual cost of supervising staff.

“It’s cost recovery. It’s not a source of money, far from it,” West said.

The division is also tapping into its reserves to upgrade Wi-Fi systems for better reliability and speed, with a prize of $800,000.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan previously asked divisions to rely on reserves as the province grapples with its own pandemic-caused budget shortfalls, but West — like many other school boards — said that the idea was a band-aid solution and not a long-term plan.

“It’s worrisome to start talking about the use of reserves for annual expenses,” West said. “If we start paying them from the reserves, the reserves are going to dry up very quickly.”

NDP leadership candidate Carla Beck said Friday the province should do more to support the divisions, despite pressure on its own finances.

She said students should not bear the brunt of budget cuts, having paid a “disproportionate price” over the past two years as the pandemic disrupted classroom learning.

“It’s a choice of the provincial government not to properly fund education,” Beck told media in Saskatoon. “It was the wrong choice.”

A full budget report is expected to be presented to Regina’s Catholic administrators at a special meeting on June 22 for discussion and final approval.

— with files by Nick Pearce

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