More students in Saskatoon schools

By Jeanette Stewart, The StarPhoenix October 20, 2011

Despite the challenges created by more students in classrooms, the Saskatoon public school division is celebrating another year of increased enrolment.

“It’s great to be part of an organization that’s growing,” said Jim Morrison, chair of the public school board. “Dealing with the challenges we have to deal with as we grow is something we’d much rather deal with than having declining enrolment.”

The main difficulty growing school divisions face is finding the cash to pay for the added costs associated with increased student numbers. The Ministry of Education has a one-year delay in funding divisions that experience an enrolment increase, which leaves administrators responsible for finding extra money in their budget to pay for increased staffing. In 2009, the Saskatoon public division had to pull $1.5 million from reserves to deal with 545 more students, it largest enrolment jump in eight years.

“We’re still going to have to dig in other nooks and crannies to try to come up with funding,” said Morrison.

This year the division experienced an increase of 480 students over last year’s enrolment. Total enrolment as of Sept. 30 is 21,297. There were 19 new staff hired for the hundreds of new students.

More students continue to enrol, prompting the third consecutive year of enrolment increases in the division. Since 2008, the number of students attending public schools grew by more than 1,200 students. More than 200 of the newly enrolled students require the services of an English as an additional language (EAL) teacher.

The number of students in grades 1 through 12 requiring EAL support rose to 1,311 on Oct. 12 from 1,109 on June 30. The French immersion program also experienced an enrolment increase of 123 from 2010.

Saskatoon’s Catholic schools are also experiencing higher enrolment numbers, with an overall increase of 531 since last September. There are a total 15,458 students enrolled in Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.

There are 221 new students in Catholic schools who require EAL support this year, bringing the total EAL enrolment in the Catholic division to 1,110. The division’s French immersion numbers also increased.

Divisions have expressed hope the Ministry of Education will update its funding formula and provide a cushion for growth. The ministry had promised a new funding formula for K-12 education would be available in the spring 2011 budget. This was delayed, though Morrison said school administrators recently had a preliminary look at the formula.

The new model won’t immediately compensate for increased enrolment, said Education Minister Donna Harpauer. “The new model was designed largely by the school divisions and that isn’t something they asked for,” she said.

Funding comes in the March budget, which Harpauer said is quicker than the previous model.

Harpauer said she is in discussions with divisions on how they might deal with increased needs more quickly each fall.

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