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TDSB mulls shutting cafeterias, raising fees to offset deficit

Parents wait for their children at the TDSB's Briar Hill Public School.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board is considering closing cafeterias, cutting central administration and substantially raising the fees that community groups pay to use school facilities to make up a $58-million deficit.

The cuts were recommended by staff in a report released Monday afternoon and will be reviewed by trustees in the weeks leading up to a June 13 board meeting.

The TDSB has already made deep cuts to balance next year's budget. Trustees voted recently to eliminate hundreds of high-school teaching and educational-assistant positions, generating $50.6-million in savings.

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But added costs from the growing full-day kindergarten program and cuts to education grants have squeezed the nearly $3-billion budget at Canada's largest school board, and trustees must find another $58.2-million.

Some school cafeterias have been struggling since the fall, when Ontario introduced strict new food and beverage guidelines. Students are opting to dine off school property, and some kitchens are selling as little as $35 worth of food each day.

The reduced revenues are costing the board about $1.6-million a year.

Schools with easy access to fast-food restaurants probably saw the steepest drops in business, especially in the first semester of the school year, said trustee Howard Goodman.

Revenues recovered slightly in the second semester, and Mr. Goodman is hopeful that students and kitchen staff are adjusting to the new regulations.

Permit fees, however, could be a problem for some community groups. The board loses about $11-million on the more than 20,000 permits it grants to outside parties such as youth groups and religious organizations each year to use school facilities.

Permit fees vary from about $4 an hour for a not-for-profit group to rent a small classroom, to about $300 an hour for a private business to rent a large auditorium.

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"We are very low-cost [space]compared to anybody in the city," Mr. Goodman said.

Rates could increase by as much as 40 per cent. Kate Wallis, a member of the TDSB's Parent Involvement Advisory Committee, raised concerns that higher fees will force some groups to move to the local church basement instead.

"Schools need to be hubs for communities – where you go at the end of the day to do your yoga classes," she said.

Ms. Wallis is part of a growing group of parents who are raising concerns that Ontario can't afford full-day kindergarten.

The TDSB has had to cut millions from other parts of the budget to pay early childhood educators.

"We do want full-day kindergarten, but not at the expense of the rest of the system," she said.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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