Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustees have voted to approve a balanced budget in the face of a $67.8 million shortfall brought on by provincial budget reductions.
By law, school boards are required to balance their budget by June 30 and while the TDSB managed to complete the task, they said it didn’t come without sacrifices.
The board voted 18-4 in favour of the budget, saying it made cuts in 22 different departments to avoid significant impacts to one area alone.
At least 596 positions are being cut in the next two years, more than half of which are lunch room supervisors. Other positions include facilities staff, centrally assigned principals, early years staff, social workers, therapists and child and youth counselors.
There will also be reductions in the arts, health, physical education, and a 24 per cent budget reduction in itinerant music instructors. School budgets will be reduced by 5 per cent and TDSB programs will be impacted, including social services, outdoor education, international languages and French immersion, just to name a few.
Parents and school workers who gathered outside TDSB headquarters in North York while the meeting took place are calling the cuts to social workers and guidance counselors “unconscionable.”
“You need to do a risk assessment on the impact on student safety of these supervision cuts and then pass it with confidence,” said Anna Jessup. “If you need more money, go to the province. That’s your fiduciary duty as a trustee of the board,” she added.
Kimberley Perry who works in professional student services said several psychology workers, social workers, speech language pathologists and child and youth care practitioners have received layoff notices or surplus letters.
“It is our position that the board should not be looking at these positions to cut, as they serve the most marginalized young people in our system,” she told CityNews.
The board says it is not discounting these concerns and says it has spent two months working towards this proposal to work within their $3.4 billion budget. In addition more services and departments will be reviewed and if provincial funding cannot be secured, more program closures could be coming.
In a statement, TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird wrote that while the board was focused on budget reductions, they expect to “maintain, and in some cases exceed, funding for key areas such as special education, early years literacy & intervention, school safety and security, model schools and initiatives to promote equity and anti-racism initiatives throughout the school system.”
The province had long maintained that these cuts are a small percentage of the board’s budget, but the TDSB disagrees, saying these cuts had a huge impact across the board.
“It should be noted that the final budget reductions will have less of an impact on programs and services for students and support staff because there is a significant budget reduction almost — $17 million to the board’s central administration, senior team and centrally assigned staff,” said TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey.
Many were calling for the TDSB to refrain from balancing the budget, but Pilkey says that the other option was to let the province handle it – which would have been even worse.
“To let the province do this would be to send a wrecking ball through the TDSB,” she said. “We have excellent programs at the TDSB, they’ve been set up for our communities for many years, they are established to meet our priorities, our multi-year strategic plan and there would be no guarantee that the province would do any of those things.”
The board says there are still some kinks to work out and some of the details will be finalized next week, with a detailed report coming soon.
The school board says it had 20 meetings before finalizing this budget and saw more than 100 public delegations.