The Ford government is planning to cut 10,125 teaching jobs over the next four years in a move that will save $851 million, according to education ministry memos obtained by the Star.
Details of the plan to phase out the full-time positions, starting this fall, are outlined in documents sent out Wednesday to directors of education and senior business officials in the province’s school boards.
Some 1,558 full-time teaching jobs will be gone by this fall, and another 2,177 by 2020-21, the memo says.
For the 2021-22 school year, 2,915 jobs will be phased out, and a further 3,475 by the fall of 2022.
In Ontario, there are currently about 115,123 full-time teachers in permanent positions.
However, in the Toronto District School Board, enrolment is set to increase in the near future, from the current 242,423 to 243,988 by 2021-22.
While secondary schools will see the brunt of the cuts, elementary positions will also be lost as the government moves to boost class sizes by an average of one student from Grades 4 to 8, and an average of six students in high school.
Because those are averages, secondary classes — now averaging 22 teens — will end up much larger than 28, as they offset smaller, specialized classes.
“For us, it’s the number of caring adults in a school,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, adding trustees’ main concerns are not only the cutbacks to staffing levels but the subsequent loss of programming.
Having fewer teachers will be “significant,” she said. With the average secondary school expected to see a loss of 11 — dropping from 46 to 35 in a school of 800 — that “is really going to hit hard. … It won’t just be there’s no option of Grade 11 band — it’s not just Grade 11 band, it’s ‘do we have any band?’
“You aren’t going to lose your math, your English, your sciences. You are going to lose those elective classes that help keep kids in school,” Abraham said, adding that shop and skilled trades classes will also be squeezed out.
“Schools won’t be able to support smaller classes. … This is the reality.”
She pledged that teaching positions will be trimmed through attrition only, pledging no layoffs, and noting the government will provide transitional funding to boards to keep that promise.
(Classes in kindergarten and the primary grades are to remain the same.)
The April 3 memo to directors also notes the education ministry will provide an additional 5 per cent in extra funding to help boards retain staff for specialized science/technology/engineering and math programs, areas the government is focusing on.
In the legislature on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said Ontario “will have the lowest class size in the country” compared to other provinces, even after the higher ratios in high schools kick in.
However, it is unclear if other provinces measure class size the same way as Ontario.
“Our focus is to make sure we focus on literacy, on math, the skills that are going to help these students … to actually get a job when they come out,” Ford said.
But NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said given the number of student protests held outside high schools across the province on Thursday, teens are “telling the government clearly they don’t want larger class sizes. They don’t want teachers losing jobs, and they don’t want to lose courses that teach everything from art to music to skilled trades. Those are actually courses that lead to good jobs and boost our economy.”
Stiles later told the Star the government did not ask parents or students about larger high school class sizes — other than in polling — during its consultations that began last fall.
“I keep asking the minister, well, tell us, I want to hear one person, one parents, one teacher — anyone — who recommended larger class sizes and fewer teachers, and they have yet to show us any indication of anybody having recommended that.”
Abraham also said she was unaware of any support for such a move.
“Heavens no,” she added. “Nobody wants bigger classes.”
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, warned classes will be “massively oversubscribed,” students will lose one-quarter of course options under the changes, and that other classes will “balloon up to 40 to 45 students.”
School boards have also been writing to Thompson, warning of “dramatic and harmful” effects to high schools, pleading with the government to take a “second look.”
The government says it will continue to consult until the end of May.
The class-size issue has proved thorny for the government, with Thompson coming under fire for saying bigger classes help build resiliency among teens — something educators have said there is no evidence to support.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy