Toronto public high school teachers who have been laid off are “frustrated” following a “sombre” information meeting with board staff on Thursday to discuss next steps.
Those in attendance were told the Toronto District School Board has cut 109 full-time teaching positions, which impacts 155 people. And while it’s possible some may be recalled or moved into occasional teaching positions, others will remain unemployed.
“We anticipate that out of the 109 current full-time positions that are currently laid off, close to 80 may be recalled during the year,” board spokesperson Ryan Bird told reporters.
He said the TDSB will have a better idea how many teachers it will recall once it gets a clearer picture of the enrolment figures and specific needs for the 2019-20 academic year.
“Unfortunately, though, it still means there are people who continue to be laid off.”
Job losses at Canada’s largest school board — with 582 schools serving 246,000 students — are the result of budget cuts, provincially-mandated changes to class size averages and a reduction in funding grants from the government.
Simone Martin — an occasional teacher for a year before landing a full-time contract last year — feels like she’s “back to square one.”
“I’m very frustrated,” said Martin, 30, after the meeting. “It’s a little bit disheartening that I now have to start again.”
She said she feels like she’s in “limbo,” noting, “It’s difficult to plan a life around uncertainty and, unemployment, basically.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, speaking to reporters in Milton after announcing new money for French language schools, said the province’s four-year, $1.6 billion attrition fund is protecting teaching jobs.
“Overwhelmingly, we are seeing the recall of educators across the province,” he said, which will continue over the coming weeks “as timetables and classes change.”
“We are seeing the result of that investment,” despite dire predictions by some boards regarding job losses, he said. “I am confident that the $1.6 billion attrition program we put in … is working … (and) I feel that program will deliver continued success.”
The attrition fund is to help boards retain teachers as the province moves to bigger class sizes over the next four years — in high schools, from an average of 22 to 28 students. In elementary schools, the average will rise by one student from Grades 4 to 8.
Over four years, the province expects to cut almost 3,500 teaching positions through retirements and resignations, saving $850 million.
Lecce noted some boards placed all teachers in positions for this school year, such as Toronto Catholic, Durham public and the District School Board of Niagara. But some have surplus teachers, including Toronto, Halton, Hamilton and the Near North public boards.
At TDSB headquarters, where the meeting was held, Leslie Wolfe, president of the Toronto local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, described the mood as “sombre.”
“Folks are sad,” she said, outside the private meeting, attended by dozens of teachers. “These are people who spent years and years in schools as occasional teachers and then enrolment finally began to increase, so the board was able to hire new teachers. And now, with these government cuts, these teachers, who should otherwise be working, don’t have jobs.”
Among them is Jonathan LeFresne, 37. For four years he bounced between TDSB schools as an occasional teacher. It was a struggle, but he stuck with it because “I’m passionate about (teaching). I make connections with students.”
Then last year, in his fifth year with the board, he finally landed a full-time permanent position — a dream gig that he worked hard to achieve and is now gone.
“I’m pretty frustrated,” said LeFresne, who also attended the meeting. “I worked in the private sector too and I understand that people get laid off and situations change. But I’m mostly angry because we’ve heard over and over and over (from the province) that no teachers would lose their job.”
He’s also frustrated because if he is placed in a long-term occasional position, then he’s taking a job away from an occasional teacher, adding, “There is job loss in the system even if I end up getting placed.”
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Carla Pisegna left a successful career as a hairstylist two years ago to teach hairstyling and esthetics in high school.
“I’m trying not to be angry,” Pisegna told reporters, adding she’s not as stressed as other laid-off teachers because she can always return to the hairstyling industry.
“I’m just trying to be hopeful that everything happens for a reason and everything will work out.”