The Toronto District School Board is cutting almost 300 staff because of the Ford government’s funding cuts, the week before the start of the school year.
The impact of provincial government cuts was detailed in budget documents presented to TDSB board members on Wednesday. The cuts are a result of the board’s search to find savings to comply with the provincial government’s cuts to education funding.
The cuts are wide reaching: affecting administrative and support staff roles, among others. The board is also eliminating dozens of caretaker positions and next year, the number of lunchroom supervisors will be slashed by more than 10 per cent.
The TDSB doesn’t yet know how many teachers may be laid off as of the first day of school, but the provincial government recently announced funding to prevent teachers from being laid off involuntarily as a result of budgetary constraints.
In addition to staffing reductions, funding is being cut to some TDSB programs to save money, and others are being discontinued completely, according to the documents.
Before the Ford government cut funding to the TDSB by $42-million, the board already had a deficit of $25-million. Wednesday’s documents outlined the details of how the board plans to balance its budget over two years: The staffing and programs cuts will save $46.8-million this year and more savings are outlined for next year.
The board had previously announced many of the budget cuts, but Wednesday’s documents detailed the full effect of the changes. Cuts to specialized programs such as outdoor education, saving the board $2.9-million, are among the savings in the report as are reductions in centralized staff positions.
The board is also seeking to save $2.6-million by reducing the number of positions in student support services. The board is losing 10 psychologists, three speech and language pathologists and four social workers. The positions are important, however, and “equivalent resources will be reinstated in 2020-21," according to the documents.
Cuts to learning centres, where students receive a more tailored curriculum, are also unsustainable, according to the documents. Teaching staff and administrative roles at the centres are being cut, for more than $7-million in savings, but again, staff note, those positions will likely be reinstated next year.
To counteract a small portion of the cuts, the board is looking at expanding its foreign student program and increasing tuition for those students next year – which will bring in some revenue, Wednesday’s documents say.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said government officials have been in contact with the TDSB regarding the positions being eliminated. He said that despite previous and current government investments, the TDSB has carried a structural deficit.
Mr. Lecce said the government has offered to fund audits for school boards to help them cut their costs, but only two have accepted the offer. The TDSB has not done so.
“My message to any board that faces fiscal challenges that precede our government is take us up on the offer [to help them cut]. I’m prepared to pay the cost to help boards,” Mr. Lecce said.
Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said the staffing changes and program cuts are the result of a lengthy consultation process. She said the board has done its best with the cuts, to ensure students are affected as little as possible.
"We’re still committed to student achievement, equity, well-being and we’re going to continue to focus in those areas.”
But staffing reductions are bound to affect the classroom, said Jessica Lyons, a parent with three children who attend TDSB schools. She’s part of a group of parents who are against education cuts.
“Every day that we learn more about the details of the cuts, we find that it’s worse,” she said, adding that the cuts will put a strain on teachers and, by extension, students. “Classrooms will be rowdier, teachers will be more stressed.”
Fewer adults will be in the classroom as a result of the reductions, according to Leslie Wolfe, president of the Toronto branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. She doesn’t blame the TDSB for making the cuts.
“The TDSB can only hire as many staff as they have funding for," she said. “This is certainly not going to be good for kids.”
With files from Caroline Alphonso.