Saskatchewan school boards are being told to cut benefits or wages for employees by 3.5 per cent and freeze those rates for three years.

A letter sent by deputy education minister Julie MacRae to school division board chairs said the cut is in addition to restraint measures required to meet this year’s operating grants.

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Kevin Doherty also said school boards can lay off staff to meet the budget cut, but he admits that may not have clear in the original letter sent to board chairs. 

“The direction of the government, as the funder, is clear, and it is expected that you will engage in the direct negotiations with the bargaining agents of your various employee groups to achieve the required outcomes,” wrote MacRae. “It is critical that this important work commence without delay and be undertaken with necessary urgency.”

Read: Sounding Board: Five ways to cut benefit costs while preserving value for staff

“We have some great concerns about some of the things that are going to be happening in the upcoming months as school divisions make difficult decisions connected to this year’s budget,” said Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, in a statement.

Members boards are facing five per cent and greater cutbacks in their funding, according to Davidson. “I don’t know where they can find five per cent without impacting staff numbers — when you consider that 80 per cent of our expenditures is staff — and also without affecting programming.

“We’re being put in a very, very difficult position and asking for this 3.5 per cent reduction in compensation package with minimal changes to staff members is not possible.”

Read: Postmedia benefits changes include closure of DB pension, EAP

The budget drawback comes as the Saskatchewan government tries to tackle a $1.3-billion deficit with a plan to get it down to $685 million in the year ahead.

The current agreement for more than 13,000 teachers expires at the end of August and negotiations for a new one are to begin in May.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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