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TDSB approves 2020-2021 operating budget, but asks for more funding

A classroom sits empty. UNSPLASH/Rubén Rodriguez

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has approved the operating budget for what is expected to be a school year like no other.

While the budget includes additional investments to support the safe and effective return to school in September, trustees are also calling on the province for more funding to help make this possible.

“This budget prioritizes the health and well-being of TDSB students, staff and the community,” TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey said in a release.

“The additional funding provided by the Ministry helps to offset some of the TDSB’s COVID-19 costs, but more is needed to fully support re-opening our schools safely next year, including allocations for additional teachers so that we can keep class sizes as low as possible.”

According to the TDSB, the impact of COVID-19 in the first four months of the school year amounts to $22.5 million – that includes both the cost of implementing new safety practices and the lost revenue permits and international student tuition fees.

The approved budget didn’t expand the impact of COVID-19 into the full school year because of the general uncertainty of the situation.

However, the projected deficit with expanded COVID-19 practices would be $29.3 million.

In June, the Ontario government announced $309 million in additional COVID-19 funding for schools across the province.

The TDSB said that this funding will offset some of the costs of reopening the school safely, but additional funding is needed.

“Our focus continues to be making sure that schools re-open safely in September, with student and staff health and well-being prioritized. This budget does not include any reductions or changes to current operations, other than additional resources to protect against COVID-19, so that all efforts can be focussed on the safe return to school.” Carlene Jackson, Interim Director of Education, TDSB, said.

Since announcing the province’s plans for reopening schools in September, many have spoken out about class sizes and safety measures taken for younger children.

The plan will see students in kindergarten through Grade 8 return to school without any reduction in class sizes, though students will spend the day in a single cohort to limit contact with other children.

Premier Doug Ford repeatedly said the strategy was founded on guidance from experts at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and other institutions. The guidance document issued by the hospital last week, however, described smaller class sizes as a “priority strategy” for maintaining physical distancing measures crucial in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“We have been clear, we will never waver in our commitment to protecting the health and safety of Ontario’s students and education staff,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement earlier this week. “That is why we are spending at record levels and taking all the necessary steps to ensure a safe return to schools in September.”

With files from The Canadian Press