The Toronto District School Board is scrambling to save a cherished music program as it tries to balance its books and stave off a provincial-government takeover.
Trustees are expected to vote Wednesday night on cuts to the number of music instructors it employs, among other items, as they grapple with a nearly $30-million deficit. Trustees voted earlier this year to slash about 250 high-school teaching jobs, including special education teachers and guidance counsellors, to help deal with the shortfall.
A proposal to shave $2-million off the deficit by cutting back on itinerant music instructors, musicians who lead bands, string and steel pan groups for students in Grade 5 through 8, has been the subject of protests. A online petition to stop the cuts has more than 10,000 signatures. Many trustees are having second thoughts on the proposal.
“This proposed reduction in the music program is not well thought out,” said trustee Pamela Gough. “We want to look at ways of adjusting the system so that there will not be as many direct impacts on schools, on classrooms and on individual students.”
Ms. Gough said trustees are looking at other options to discuss at Wednesday’s meeting, which include charging fees for the elite high-school International Baccalaureate diploma program or through in-house savings, such as not filling staff vacancies.
Trustee Howard Goodman said he and his colleagues have to balance the risk of being taken over by the province for not balancing the budget and how much kids would suffer by reducing the number of music instructors. “We don’t want to see the province come in and take us over,” he said.
Music instructors are present in about 30 per cent of TDSB elementary schools. They provide more specialized music instruction, such as strings and steel pan. They also assist teachers.
TDSB staff suggested in a recent budget report that savings could be found by cutting back the hours of instruction students get with itinerant music instructors, and laying off 23 instructors who coach teachers.
The proposed cuts would not result in the loss of music education in TDSB schools. Music instruction is mandated under the Ontario curriculum, and more than 400 TDSB teachers have music qualifications. “Music is taught right across the system, and music will continue to be taught right across the system,” said TDSB spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz.