A frustrated Chinook School Division approved their budget for next year earlier this week as the red ink continues to spill.

The division is projected to post a loss of $6.9 million for the 2021-22 school year and they'll have to dip into their reserves once again to shore up a cash shortfall of nearly $4.2 million.

Those ugly figures according to the Chinook School Division's Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin, are what they believe is their true cost of operation at around $90.25 million.

"What they (the board of education) is really looking for is creating a level of awareness out there that there is a revenue sufficiency problem with the funding that has been allocated by the provincial government," he said. "It has just not kept pace with the inflationary cost drivers for salaries, utilities, insurance, and capital asset acquisitions."

The division's revenue, nearly all provincially-funded, has grown from just under $81.3 million in 2017-18 to just over $83.3 million for the 2021-22 budget. And according to the Bank of Canada's inflationary calculator, that number to just keep pace with inflation should grown from $81.3 million in 2018 to around $85.9 million in 2021.

This certainly isn't a new issue the school division has had to face as the last three budgets approved combined, they've now drawn nearly $8.2 million from their reserves and at this rate, that tool will only be available for another one to three years.

"There's no evidence to prove that it (the deficit) would be less next year, without some serious new revenue, so you can only project," he said. "I do not see costs going down, revenues are basically flat, costs are going up and it depends on what pace the costs go up."

Once the reserve tanks are dry, Chinook will be faced with a massive hurdle to overcome as they aren't allowed to run a deficit if they don't have money elsewhere to cover for the difference.

"Obviously there are ways to reduce costs but those ways are going to have dramatic impacts on the classroom, so the board has been very reluctant to do that," he said. "In some ways, they may not be able to meet their obligations to deliver the programming if they had to reduce costs to that degree."

Back in the spring of 2017 the school division cut nine staff and reassigned 25 teaching support personnel in an attempt to mitigate a reduction in funding of nearly $6 million from the provincial government. While Chinook School Division's Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore doesn't want that to occur again, she believes they aren't far away from knowing those decisions will have to be made.

"We can only cut so much," she said. "We're at a point where we've found every efficiency that we possibly can.

"We just want to make sure that our message is clear that we just feel our shortfall needs to be addressed more seriously than it has been in the last few years."

Quintin and Pridmore both stated the board and senior staff from the division have spoken with the provincial government about their continued and growing shortfall on many occasions and they're hoping to take the next step this fall and arrange a meeting with MLA's Everett Hindley, Doug Steele, and David Marit.

"I would say they're aware of the shortfall," she said. "They likely aren't aware of the growing concern and the increasing gap we're experiencing but we want to try and educate them about our situation any chance we can."

One potential solution Chinook is hoping to gain some traction with is returning the taxing authority back to the local school board.

"There's a certain amount of activity going on in the southwest and those dollars could stay in this area and currently they are not," she said. "We're not recognized for what we contribute to the provincial budget, it seems to us we're penalized. We contribute on the different sectors, you know the agriculture or oil and gas, we feel like we're contributing that way but it's not reflected back."

There are 62 schools spread across southwestern Saskatchewan that fall under Chinook's jurisdiction and Pridmore said they aren't interested in closing any schools at the moment.

"We know that relying on our reserves isn't sustainable," she said. "And when you get within two or three years (of running out), you start to get pretty concerned about what's going to happen and again, you're looking at the staffing and you're looking at longer bus rides and you're looking at all kinds of things that make people very unhappy."