A budget with “deep cuts” will be on the table at a special meeting of the Toronto District School Board on Wednesday as the board struggles to make up a $58-million deficit, according to its budget chair.
Among the cuts being considered are shutting down 32 school cafeterias to generate $600,000 in savings as well as a 40-per-cent increase in permit fees for community rentals of school properties.
Earlier this year, the board cut $50.6-million from labour costs – high school teaching positions, vice-principals and other school staff – in an attempt to balance the budget. Added costs from the growing full-day kindergarten program combined with declining revenues from school cafeterias mean trustees must find another $58.2-million.
Some trustees have floated the idea of cutbacks in the board’s flagship program, Model Schools for Inner Cities, budget chair Jerry Chadwick said. Although it was not part of the staff’s list of recommended cuts, Mr. Chadwick said any trustee could bring such a motion forward to be debated on Wednesday.
“The program is very successful, but we have to examine everything for sure to find those efficiencies,” Mr. Chadwick said. “I think, even if there were cuts, we would do it in a way to avoid directly impacting the program.”
He said the “basic concept of the budget is strong,” but he anticipates trustees will voice concerns over individual items. “Some of these deep cuts aren’t going to be easy to agree on,” he added.
He says the board cannot afford to defer preventive maintenance on its older buildings to compensate for the budget shortfall.
“We don’t have a lot of wriggle room because 85 per cent of our budget is spent on paying staff and teachers,” he said. “But we’ve got to get past the Band-aid solutions because we’ve got leaky roofs, and those problems aren’t going to go away.”
Trustee Chris Glover said the province should step in to help Canada’s largest school board, adding that many parents voiced concerns about how the cuts will affect special education and access to social workers.
“We’ve been struggling with this mandate to open full-day kindergarten while at the same time seeing our overall funding from the province go down by $12-million for next year,” Mr. Glover said.
Some school cafeterias have also been struggling since the province introduced strict new food and beverage guidelines last fall. Rather than eating the healthier fare, many students are going off school property, and some kitchens are selling as little as $35 worth of food each day. The reduced revenues are costing the board about $1.6-million a year.
The province should have helped with the transition, said Kate Wallis, a member of the TDSB’s Parent Involvement Advisory Committee. “Anyone who has a kid knows that you can’t make them switch suddenly from burger and fries to eating cucumbers overnight.”
Shut down 32 cafeterias to mitigate deficits: $600,000 in savings
Raise community permit fees by 40.7 per cent in addition to the 3-per-cent increase the board had already approved: $2.2-million in savings
Restructuring: $2.5-million in savings
Realignment of social workers and psychologists: $400,000 in savings from a 1.4-per-cent reduction of their budget
Reduction of special-education administration: $300,000 in savings
Ministry review to find efficiencies in business services and facilities: $9-million
Reducing professional-development days: $4.5-million
Savings in non-academic departments: $3.9-million
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