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Education TDSB to vote on cuts to special-education programs

Members of the Toronto District School Board meet in Toronto, Ontario, Wednesday, January 28, 2015. The board is set to vote on Wednesday on the budget, which includes a staffing plan that would cut 61 special-education jobs in elementary and secondary schools in response to a provincial reduction in funding for those programs.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Elementary-school teachers are bracing for classroom changes as a result of a budget that slashes special education staff, a union leader says.

The Toronto District School Board is set to vote on Wednesday on the budget, which includes a staffing plan that would cut 61 special-education jobs in elementary and secondary schools in response to a provincial reduction in funding for those programs.

The budget also would cut about 215 teacher jobs, nearly 100 ESL jobs, 8.5 secretaries and five vice-principals.

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Staff costs make up 83 per cent of the board's operating costs, budget documents say. Smaller savings and revenue were found through changes such as a plan to use downtown school property for paid parking lots.

The changes to special-education programs would save $4.5-million.

"With less and less funding available for special-education kids … you have less treatment centres, you have less dedicated programs," said Andy Lomnicki, vice-president of Elementary Teachers of Toronto.

"All this means is those kids are bumped further and further back into quote-unquote regu-lar programs," he said. "The impact is felt there, so I guess the supplemental question is, is that fair for all the other kids that are in that regular program?"

Many proposed staffing cuts are the result of lower enrolment or changing demand. Nearly 100 ESL teaching jobs, for example, would be cut because of lower immigration to Toronto, according to the plan.

Most of the special-education staffing cuts reflect a reduction in grants, not enrolment, according to the staffing plan. A four-year funding reallocation by the province based on recent statistics will increase special-education funding to some boards while reducing it for others. The Toronto District School Board estimates it will lose $22.3-million over the four years, according to a fact sheet released with the budget.

The nonprofit People for Education, reported last year that Ontario elementary schools have an average of one special-education teacher for every 37 students with special needs, and one for every 74 students in high schools.

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As well as teachers, next year's special education cuts will include noon-hour assistants, special-needs assistants, lunchroom supervisors and education assistants.

The board said it expects to achieve most of the staffing cuts through attrition, moving some teachers into recently vacated positions. However, some will have to wait to be reassigned during the school year.

The staffing plan also calls for hiring up to 400 occasional or substitute teachers, whose ranks have already grown to about 4,000 in the past few years.

Mr. Lomnicki said he is not concerned about that change, since the need for more occasional teachers is longstanding.

The budget projects a deficit of $16.5-million, up from about $12.5-million last year.

The board will also vote on Wednesday on beginning the review of schools for possible closing, starting with two clusters of high schools.

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In North York, they will look at Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate Institute, Downsview Secondary School and Weston Collegiate Institute as well as Sir Robert Borden Business and Technical Institute, West Hill Collegiate Institute and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute in Scarborough.

In the Danforth area, they will look at Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, East York Alternative Secondary School, East York Collegiate Institute, Eastdale Collegiate Institute, Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, Greenwood Secondary School, Monarch Park Collegiate Institute, Riverdale Collegiate Institute, School of Life Experience and Subway Academy.

The education department and the chair of the school board finance committee David Smith could not be reached for comment late on Tuesday.

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