TDSB calls on province to lift moratorium on school closures to help with budget crunch

A meeting was held by the Toronto District School Board amid a nearly 27 million dollar budget deficit, while also calling on the province to lift moratorium.

Facing a nearly $ 28 million deficit, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) passed several measures to address its 2024-25 budget including calling on the province to lift the moratorium on school closures.

TDSB trustees unanimously approved a motion calling on the Ministry of Education to remove the moratorium which it says will help address growing costs to maintain underutilized schools and facilitate long-term planning.

Failing that, the Board is asking for a special exemption that would allow it to consolidate up to four schools per year until the moratorium is lifted provincewide.

The moratorium has been in place since 2017. The TDSB previously received $35.5 million in “top-up” funding per year to support the operation and maintenance of facilities where enrolment was under capacity but since 2018 this funding is no longer available.

“Being able to consolidate schools would be a real win for TDSB students and communities and enable us to bring the programming students deserve, to each and every local school,” said TDSB Rachel Chernos Lin. “This important action by the Ministry would be incredibly impactful and would allow the TDSB to operate in a more financially efficient manner, and better serve the needs and aspirations of students, families, and communities.”

The TDSB also approved a reduction in central staffing, replacement costs related to sick leave and decreased spending on absenteeism, filling vacancies and contracts.

“That’s about $17 million in savings from some efficiency improvements and cuts we have made,” said Chernos Lin. “It also proposes some new ones and it asks staff to bring more information back on some other items that they proposed changes for.”

An internal report had called for the elimination of Seniors’ Daytime programs and Grade 6 weekend trips to Scarborough Outdoor Education Centre, consolidation of International Language-African Heritage Programs, an overhaul of Adult Day Schools, and increasing permit fees for community groups using TDSB facilities.

Those changes will be delayed as the board awaits an in-depth report on the community impact of cutting those programs.

“Our core mandate is K to 12 and when we’re in a budget crunch, we can’t be losing money on other programs because we’re not funded for them and having to find that funding,” Chernos Lin told CityNews ahead of the budget meeting.

“We don’t want to see those programs go, none of us want to see them go, whether it’s this year or next year, but we need people to work with us. This is really something where all levels of government, whether it’s school board, municipal or provincial, should all be working together in support of communities because our schools are great hubs.”

Chernos Lin says despite finding operational efficiencies, the TDSB still faces a deficit due to the fact it was forced to use a significant amount of its reserve funds to pay for COVID-19 measures. She says those reserve funds are now needed to help with its current structural deficit.

“We have never been reimbursed for that. We are creatures of the province and that has set us up for an extremely challenging budget to recover from because of that expenditure that we made. Those are reserves that we would have closed these gaps within funding each and every year. We can’t do that anymore because we spent it during COVID.”

“That’s part of the challenge we’re facing year after year after year. No matter how much we cut, there really isn’t much left to cut because every year, we’re faced with a structural deficit. So there are a few pieces that we really need to work on with the province to put us in a position where we have what I would call a new deal for Toronto because right now the deal we’re being given is not working for the TDSB.”

School boards across the province are required to operate on a balanced budget to comply with Ontario’s Education Act.

Faiza Amin contributed to this report

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