The Saskatchewan NDP received some good news late last week when a report by the privacy commissioner stated that the provincial government has no valid reason to withhold information regarding the cost of needed repairs and condition of schools in the province.
The official opposition has been asking for those numbers from the ministry of education since October 1, 2019 when they requested the amount of repairs and the average Facility Condition Index (FCI) for each school division.
After much back and forth between the members of the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP, the government did provide the FCI but did not give out information on how much it would cost to repair schools in each of the province’s 27 school divisions.
The privacy commissioner’s report released on September 4 not only suggested there is no reason to keep the information from being public, but made the recommendation that it be released in its entirety. The NDP said that information has not yet been released since the privacy commissioner’s recommendations.
Carla Beck, education critic for the opposition party, said the Sask. Party needs to be transparent in the real costs the province is facing.
“These are items that we know today need addressing,” she started. “Where there is deficits, that would indicate there is work that needs to be done but has been deferred due to lack of funding.”
She added that the province is currently suffering an infrastructure deficit with $1.3 billion needed to fix Saskatchewan schools. This was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Are there HVAC systems that need replacing? Are there windows that need replacing? Is this a mold issue or are there other concerns in schools,” said Beck. “I think that’s important information for communities to have.”
A government spokesperson shared in an email response that they “respectfully disagree” with the recommendation to release records involving school division maintenance and funding. They noted their reasoning is due to potential economic and budget implications for both the province and divisions.
Education capital investments will total $167.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.