Staff at the Toronto District School Board are proposing cuts to programs and services, including music and the busing of French immersion students, in an effort to tackle a deeper budgetary hole than previously estimated.
John Malloy, the board’s director of education, told a finance committee Monday evening that staff received more information on provincial cuts late last week and worked through the weekend to propose to trustees how it could deal with a $67.8-million budget shortfall.
“This has been very challenging, lots of tension and a bit of anxiety,” Dr. Malloy said. “Preparing for today has added to that anxiety.”
The school board had anticipated a provincial funding loss of $28.7-million, based on earlier calculations. But it learned late on Friday that the amount would amount to $42.1-million, Dr. Malloy said. The board also has a structural deficit of about $25-million, which has given it flexibility to offer programs and services to students.
Asked about the anticipated cuts at the TDSB, Education Minister Lisa Thompson told reporters at Queen’s Park earlier in the day on Monday that the government inherited a large deficit and she asked the board to do its part to find savings.
“I invite the school board to put their best efforts forward to find efficiencies from within, all the while keeping student achievement their number one priority,” Ms. Thompson said.
Among the proposed cutbacks presented to trustees on Monday, the TDSB would no longer provide busing to French immersion students from kindergarten to Grade 5 and those in extended French enrolled in the program that is not at their local school. It would also not provide TTC fare to those in the program in Grade 6 and above, as well as gifted students in Grade 7 and above. The move would save the board about $9-million and put it in line with the practice at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
The proposed cuts include scaling back on the number of itinerant music instructors, who are musicians and not certified teachers, and eliminating the elementary international baccalaureate program, which is offered at five schools.
There has been a lot of uncertainty in the education sector after Doug Ford’s government announced earlier this year that it would increase average class sizes by one student in Grades 4 to 8, and to 28 from 22 in high school – eliminating an estimated 3,475 teaching positions across the province over the next four years as it tries to trim a deficit it pegs at $11.7-billion.
On Friday, school boards received further details from the province about funding. This follows a government announcement late last month that it would spend $24.7-billion on education. It’s a moderate increase from this school year, but it also includes a transitional fund that the government said would be used to prevent teacher layoffs.
Ms. Thompson has stressed that there will be no teacher layoffs as a result of the increases to class sizes, and that teaching positions would be lost through attrition, meaning that educators who retire or voluntarily leave their job would not be replaced.
Several boards contend that there would still be layoffs because of other grant cutbacks by the government. They have also warned that class-size increases will mean the loss of elective courses that require small groupings of students, including art and the skilled trades.
The TDSB has a budget of about $3-billion. Dr. Malloy said the funding cuts mean that it will become more difficult for the board to provide students with access to special programs.
“We simply are not going to be able to do it to the same extent going forward,” he told reporters outside the boardroom. “That reality was the hardest.”
The proposed cutbacks will be debated among trustees going forward and a decision is not expected till later in June.