The Toronto District School Board says it will need to make “hard decisions” in an effort to balance its budget after the province announced a funding plan that will leave the board with $21 million less than last year, according to a TDSB analysis.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced Friday that the province will invest $24.66 billion to boards across Ontario through the Grants for Student Needs (GSN), with a per-pupil funding projected at $12,246.
A preliminary Toronto public board analysis of the funding plan, obtained by the Star, says the shortfall will bring grant funding down for the TDSB from $2.99 billion this school year to $2.97 billion next year.
The TDSB plans to update its trustees at a meeting Monday afternoon.
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Thompson told the Star Friday that the education grants announcement shows school boards “that they have a ministry of education and a minister who wants to work with school boards as partners with a commitment to getting education back on track” with a focus on student achievement.
The board will have to find more than $54 million in cuts overall for the 2019-20 school year, given the provincial shortfall combined with the board’s structural deficit, said TDSB chair Robin Pilkey.
“We don’t have a lot of flexible money in the system,” Pilkey said.
“Obviously any cut is a concern. We have a multi-year strategic plan that we’re trying to accomplish, and we’re hoping we’ll still be able to do all the things that we want to do through that plan, but we have to make some hard decisions.”
One of those hard decisions is to reduce the number of teachers to match the province’s directive of increasing class size averages.
The existing TDSB collective agreement stipulates that classes of Grades 4 to 8 should be kept to an average of 23.24 students, but the new provincial guidelines ask for an average size of 24.5 students per class. That will lead to an elimination of approximately 216 elementary teachers, according to the TDSB.
In secondary levels, class sizes will increase from 22 to 28 students, leading to the elimination of about 800 teaching positions over the next four years, according to TDSB projections.
Thompson said the province’s attrition fund of $1.6 billion over four years is “historic” and will allow boards to manage the move to larger class sizes, especially in high school, and help protect front-line staff who will be impacted by the proposed changes.
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She said she is confident the province is “getting it right” when it comes to boosting class sizes.
“We heard from people (who) wanted to have effective classrooms” and moving to an average of 28 will do that, she added.
But Pilkey noted TDSB schools will be forced to offer fewer courses to accomodate the “mildly” increasing student enrolment.
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“The loss of options at high school level is a terrible policy,” she said.
“High school is like a starting line to the rest of your life, and making decisions after high school, a lot of that is based on the type of courses you can take in high school. So if you’ve had fewer courses, people have fewer options. I don’t think that’s good for students, it’s not good for the economy, it’s not good for the province.”
Pilkey said she doesn’t think the changes will affect the quality of the courses offered, as TDSB has “very good people” working for it and will have to learn to do things a little differently “with this government.”
She said it’s disappointing to have to face these types of budget cuts as they make it difficult for the board to implement its plans for student success.
“I think we have an excellent education system and I’m not sure why you’d want to tamper with that,” she said. “The province is looking for money. We have to be honest about it. It’s not about the quality of the education system. It’s about how we find money.”
Marit Stiles, New Democrat MPP (Davenport) and a former Toronto public school board trustee, said boards are legislated to balance budgets and must find that money “and school boards are going to be making some really brutal decisions.
“So, cuts are coming and they are significant, and for the government to say there won’t be job losses, or that this is somehow a great investment in learning, well, that’s just hogwash,” said Stiles. “The jobs are gone, the positions are disappearing, and classrooms will be larger, and students will have less opportunities and less face-to-face time with teachers.”
These educational funding cuts are among a host of other spending chops revealed in Doug Ford’s first budget — cuts that extend to programs like tree-planting, library book-sharing, legal aid services and OHIP coverage while abroad, among others.
The province will also be collecting a $1,300 fee from school boards for every international student that is enrolled in its schools. Thompson said the fee is to cover “administrative costs associated with planning and preparing and hosting for the international students.”
Pilkey called this unprecedented move “bizarre.”
“I don’t know why they’ve done that. There was no indication they’d do that; I don’t know where that came from,” she said.
Tuition fees for international students are set by individual school boards, and Pilkey said it is one of their revenue tools that help offset funding for other programs that are important to the schools.
With files from Jim Rankin
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