About a quarter of Toronto’s public elementary schools are changing their bell times as the school board looks to save on busing to deal with provincial funding cuts.
The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, said on Wednesday that it would stagger start and end times at 131 of its 473 elementary schools, which allows the board to plan bus routes more efficiently.
The changes would take effect in the fall, the board said, with schools seeing their start and end times adjusted anywhere between five and 30 minutes. Some students would start their school day as late as 9:15 in the morning, and end at 3:45.
The TDSB said that by staggering school start and end times, there would be 55 fewer buses on the road, which is projected to save about $2.5-million.
“We recognize that some of these changes will be challenging for parents, students and staff,” spokesman Ryan Bird said. “We’re trying to give people as much advance notice as possible.”
The changes to bell times are the latest impact felt by schools as the Toronto board wrestles with what it has described as a larger-than-expected funding reduction by the government. Last June, trustees approved a budget that would cut $67.8-million over two years, after recommendations from staff on reducing several services across the system.
The board said its budget shortfall included a $42.1-million cut in provincial government funding. It also has a structural deficit of about $25-million, which has given it the flexibility to offer programs and services to students.
The TDSB has a budget of about $3-billion.
Alexandra Adamo, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said staggering bell times is a tactic used by many school boards to maximize “efficiency and effectiveness,” adding that the government is committed to increasing funding for transportation to school boards across the province.
The TDSB said on Wednesday in a note to families that it currently spends more on transportation than it receives from the provincial government. Mr. Bird said staggering school times and making cuts to busing would prevent the board from making deeper cuts to programs and services.
However, parent Annely Zonena, who has three children attending Fern Avenue Junior and Senior Public School in the city’s west end, said the changes will cause frustration, especially among working families. Her school’s morning bell will ring at 9:15, 15 minutes later, and the afternoon bell will be at 3:45.
Ms. Zonena drops off her children at school, which means she arrives at work after 10. The cost of before- and after-school care is expensive in the city, and while the new bell times may not appear drastic, she will have to make arrangements for her children.
“I’m going to have to pay for care, because I cannot shift my work day any later,” she said.
Ms. Zonena said she understood that the TDSB was facing challenges because of cuts made by the provincial government. “It’s so obvious that this is a cost that is going to be passed on to parents as a result of the broader cuts to education," she said, adding, "We have a big problem if Canada’s largest school board needs to rely on a razor-thin budget for busing to figure out how to get kids to school.”