Hamilton

Hamilton public school board laying off 99 teachers amid budget cuts

Hamilton's public school board says it is laying off 99 teachers after cuts to provincial funding.

Catholic board has also sent out 42 'surplus notices'

Layoffs are coming at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamilton's public school board says it is laying off 99 teachers after cuts to provincial funding.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Alex Johnstone said in a statement that the cuts amount to the equivalent of staffing for more than two full high schools, and impact staff who have been working with the board for up to six years. 

"These changes negatively affect HWDSB, its employees, students, and families," Johnstone said in the statement.

In an interview with CBC Hamilton, she said this move "creates instability across the system." It's especially difficult considering 26 per cent of students in Hamilton attend special education classes, a high number of students speak English as their second language, and one in five kids in the system live in poverty, she said.

"We have a more vulnerable student population to begin with," she said. 

"We're very concerned about the impact."

Minister said no teacher would 'involuntarily' lose their job

The province is moving forward with its plan to increase high school class sizes from an average of 22 to 28 over the next four years.

These cuts come despite Education Minister Lisa Thompson saying no teacher would "involuntarily" lose their job, adding that the provincial government is setting aside $1.6 billion in "attrition protection" funding.

Minister of Education Lisa Thompson says the province has set aside $1.6 billion in attrition protection to ensure there are no layoffs. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

If a school board has 10 fewer retirements than expected, for example, it could afford to not lay off 10 teachers by drawing on the fund, she said.

CBC News has reached out to the ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

According to Johnstone, that funding can only be used to offset layoffs due to class size increases. However, the board's hand was also forced due to cuts to a variety of funding envelopes, school closures, and declining enrolment numbers, she said.

The school board says it is pursuing clarification on the ministry's attrition program, and how it can be extended to all employee groups within the board to ensure there are no job losses. 

"We hope to recall our teachers back, but it is uncertain when we will be in this position," Johnstone said in her statement.

Full time staff who have been laid off will be able to be bumped back into a second employee tier for "long term occasional" workers, who cover things like maternity leave and sick leave — but that also has an impact on both job security and benefits.

That would then bump other teachers back into the pool of substitute teachers, creating a "domino effect," Johnstone said.

Catholic board sends out surplus notices

The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) has already sent out 42 surplus notices to secondary school teachers, according to chair Pat Daly — but no one has been laid off just yet.

No notices have been sent to elementary teachers or other HWCDSB employees so far, but Daly said financial staff are still reviewing the recently released 2019-20 grants for student needs to get a better sense of the financial situation facing the board.

A large crowd gathers at Queen's Park to protest the provincial government's recently announced changes to education during the Rally for Education in Toronto on April 6. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Any further cuts should be announced in the next couple of weeks.

"Our real hope is that there will not be any layoffs. Whether it's through retirements, resignations and other creative ways … we can work with employee groups so people don't lose jobs," said Daly. "That's the commitment our board for sure is making.

"Can anyone guarantee that at this point? No."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

with files from the Canadian Press and Dan Taekema

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