Twelve people received layoff notices on Tuesday as Saskatoon’s Catholic school division eliminated jobs for aboriginal student retention workers in the face of a $9.7 million budget shortfall.
Facing growing student enrolment and a reduction in funding, school division officials recently called this year’s budget a step backwards.
Catholic Board chair Diane Boyko said eliminating the positions will save about $700,000, but noted the cuts were not easy to make.
“This is a very hard thing for us to do,” she said. “This is not an easy category for us to say that we have to step back on. These people have done excellent work for the division, the families and the students that they work with, and this is a difficult situation.”
Tim Powchuk, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 2268, which represents the affected staff, could not be reached by deadline.
In Saskatchewan schools, aboriginal graduation rates are well below the provincial average: 40.1 per cent compared to roughly 84.3 per cent. Statistics Canada data indicates 15 per cent of the province’s aboriginal population lives in Saskatoon.
Education Minister Don Morgan was unavailable for an interview on Tuesday. A statement from the Ministry of Education said the ministry “understands that as a result of decreases to operating grants, many divisions may have to make difficult decisions in order to operate within their funding allocation.”
Duties carried out by aboriginal student retention workers, which included working with school administration, parents and teachers to support First Nations and Metis students, will now fall to the division’s aboriginal student achievement co-ordinators.
The affected employees will have an opportunity to return to different positions. Boyko said the division will continue supporting indigenous students, as their success is a responsibility of the entire division.