Slashing begins as TDSB wrestles with $67.8M budget shortfall

Slashing begins as TDSB wrestles with $67.8M budget shortfall

The Toronto District School Board revealed on Monday it is grappling with a much bigger budget shortfall than anticipated — an extra $13 million — because of changes in funding by the Ford government.

At a special committee meeting Monday evening, it was announced the TDSB is dealing with a shortfall of $67.83 million — and not the previously reported $54.4 million.

Students, parents and others take part in a rally outside the Toronto District School Board headquarters on Yonge St. Monday, in advance of a budget meeting in which the board outlined proposed cuts as it grapples with a multi-million shortfall in the wake of the Ford government’s funding changes.
Students, parents and others take part in a rally outside the Toronto District School Board headquarters on Yonge St. Monday, in advance of a budget meeting in which the board outlined proposed cuts as it grapples with a multi-million shortfall in the wake of the Ford government’s funding changes.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

That shortfall could result in cuts to busing for French Immersion and Extended French students, the cancellation of International Baccalaureate programs in elementary school and charging students to attend such classes in high school, cutting the number of learning coaches, guidance counsellors, reading coaches, and custodians, among other proposed measures.

TDSB director of education John Malloy said staff learned late Friday from the Ministry of Education that provincial cuts will amount to $42.1 million — and not the expected $28.7 million.

That $42.1 million plus a structural deficit — this is extra money the board invests in areas not covered by the government — of about $25.7 million, amounts to a total shortfall of $67.83 million.

“This has been very challenging, lots of tension and a bit of anxiety,” said Malloy. “Preparing for today has added to that anxiety,” he said, noting “nothing” is “being brought to you lightly or without absolute careful consideration.”

Malloy made the comments at a special meeting to trustees of the Finance, Budget and Enrolment Committee. He presented a draft report of the 2019-20 school budget, which provides a glimpse of possible cuts that could be coming.

Outside, about 100 parents, children and others waved placards, demanding that teachers be protected from any cuts.

Among proposed changes are cancelling busing for French immersion and Extended French students between senior kindergarten and Grade 5 who are attending programs that are not at their home school. Meanwhile, French immersion and extended French students in Grade 6 and above, who attend a program that isn’t at their home school, will not be given TTC fare.

Also, students in the gifted program in Grade 7 and above attending classes that aren’t at their home school will not be provided with TTC fare.

Other proposed changes include cancelling the International Baccalaureate program in elementary schools and charging for the secondary school International Baccalaureate program.

Staff reductions at learning centres are also being proposed. These include cutting the number of learning coaches for kindergarten to Grade 12 from 69 to 40, early reading coaches from 28 to 20 and guidance counsellors from 84 to 69. However, there are no proposed changes to the number of special education consultants, special education co-ordinators, community support workers and student equity program advisers.

Other proposed changes include reducing the number of extra teachers brought in to help with the gifted program, and cutting the number of itinerant music instructors, which are musicians who go into schools to help with music programming.

The board is also proposing cutting eight trades staff, such as plumbers and electricians, three facilities management staff and 52 caretaking positions.

Members of the public can share their views on the proposed budget by emailing the TDSB or by attending meetings scheduled for May 15, May 27 and June 3. A final vote by the board will take place next month, when trustees and staff must pass a balanced budget. The TDSB’s annual operating budget is about $3.4 billion.

At Queen’s Park on Monday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said tough financial times require everyone to do their part in finding ways to save money.

“The Toronto District School Board has a budget of almost $3 billion,” Thompson told reporters a few hours before theTDSB meeting. “We all have to do our part.

“We cannot forget we still have a huge fiscal hill to climb addressing the deficit that we inherited as well as the debt load that’s crippling us,” she said referring to the deficit forecast for this fiscal year, which is about $12.3 billion.

“I invite the school board to put their best efforts forward to find efficiencies from within, all the while keeping student achievement their number one priority,” she said.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the declining number of elective courses shows the education cuts are already dangerous.

“What we’ve seen already is that these cuts have real implications for the quality of education of our students. That’s taking our province backwards,” she told reporters.

“We have a rapidly changing world. We have a rapidly changing economy. We have a rapidly changing information and technology and technology systems. You don’t dumb down your education system when you have that kind of an environment,” said Horwath.

The board says a key reason it will have a significant budget shortfall next year is because the ministry increased class size averages for Grades 4 to 8 to 24.5 students.That would mean the TDSB would have to cut about 216 elementary teaching positions. However, the board’s collective agreement stipulates that class averages for those grades must be 23.24 and since it must honour its collective agreements, that’s going to cost the board about $9.6 million in the coming budget year.

At high schools, class size averages are increasing over the next four years from 22 to 28 students, which will lead to about 800 fewer teaching positions, according to TDSB projections.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has pledged $1.6 billion for an attrition fund for school boards to ensure no one is laid off if retirements and resignations aren’t enough and has repeatedly said no teachers will lose their jobs.

With files from Kristin Rushowy

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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