Throughout Saskatchewan's history, the governance of public schools has been in the hands of local residents, through boards of education composed of elected school trustees. For school governance and electoral purposes, the province has been divided into geographic areas. In the early years, these areas were called school districts. The districts were five miles by four miles, and each had a school at its centre, governed by the local school board. Over the years, more than 5,000 school districts were formed. In 1944, the provincial government introduced legislation called the Larger School Units Act, whereby school districts could amalgamate into larger governance areas, with one elected board of education responsible for all schools within the boundaries of the school unit. Gradually, many of the school districts in rural areas joined to form larger school units, while districts in the larger urban centres (as well as in some towns and villages) continued to function as discrete governance areas.
In 1978, the provincial government introduced the Education Act. This statute brought greater uniformity by renaming all school districts and larger school units as school divisions, and by giving each of the divisions a unique number. This arrangement was also extended to northern Saskatchewan, where schools had previously been controlled more directly by the provincial government. Each school division has a board of education with a minimum of five members and a maximum of ten, as prescribed by the Minister of Learning. In most urban school divisions, school trustees are elected on an at-large basis. In rural areas, the school divisions are divided into sub-divisions, each of which elects one member to the board of education. To participate in an election as either a candidate or a voter, a person must live within the boundaries of the school division. Eligibility is based on place of residence; ownership of property in the division is not necessary, nor does it confer eligibility on non-residents.
Canadian constitutional law includes provisions that have a direct impact on the governance of schools in Saskatchewan, based on faith in one case and on language in the other. As required by the constitution, Saskatchewan legislation enables the members of the minority faith in a particular area (either Protestant or Roman Catholic) to establish a separate school division in the area, to elect a school board consisting exclusively of members of that faith, and to govern their own separate schools. As required by section 23 of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Saskatchewan law also provides for a francophone school division under the governance of a francophone board of education elected by francophone residents. First Nations schools located on Indian reserves fall under federal and band jurisdiction, and are not part of the school governance framework set out in this entry.
As of January 1, 2004, Saskatchewan has eighty-two school divisions: sixty-six public, fifteen separate (fourteen Roman Catholic and one Protestant), and one francophone. This number is likely to be reduced in the future through further restructuring into larger governance areas. Apart from specific matters unique to the separate and francophone school boards, all boards of education have the same statutory powers and duties. Although they are required to comply with all relevant Saskatchewan legislation, they are not agents of the provincial government but rather are a type of local government. By law, the boards are autonomous corporate bodies with broad authority to own property, employ staff, and enter into contracts. As democratically elected bodies, they are directly accountable to local residents for their policies, actions, and decisions. Board meetings are open to the public, and the minutes of board meetings are a public document. Boards of education are responsible for the delivery of school services within their school division. For this purpose, key powers and duties assigned to boards of education include the following: to own and operate schools and to determine the grades to be offered in each; to determine the attendance area for each school and to arrange student transportation services as the board considers necessary; to close schools; to determine (subject to provincial curriculum policy) the program of instruction in each school; and to employ teachers, administrators, and support personnel required for the delivery of programs.
Saskatchewan's publicly supported schools are funded through a combination of provincial grants and locally generated revenues. A key financial responsibility of school boards is to raise the required local share for their school division by establishing annual mill rates for the levying of property taxes. Boards of education are supported in a variety of ways in carrying out their governance responsibilities. Each board employs a director of education to serve as its chief executive officer. For each school, there is either a local board of trustees or a local school advisory committee. These bodies provide policy and program advice, and also carry out a range of administrative functions with respect to their school, as delegated by the board of education.