Toronto

Ford government recommends Ontario school boards freeze hiring ahead of upcoming budget

"I am writing to you today to recommend that school boards exercise prudence in making hiring decisions in light of the upcoming Ontario budget," wrote the deputy minister of education in a memo to school boards.

Memo to school boards asks them to 'exercise prudence in making hiring decisions'

Ontario's Education Minister Lisa Thompson has presided over recent consultations on class size, hiring practices and the future of all-day kindergarten in the province. The government is currently reviewing feedback it received. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The provincial government has recommended that Ontario school boards implement a hiring freeze until the details of the upcoming budget are solidified.

"I am writing to you today to recommend that school boards exercise prudence in making hiring decisions in light of the upcoming Ontario budget and the recent consultation on class size and hiring practices," said Nancy Naylor, deputy minister of education, in a memo sent to school board heads on Thursday.

"School boards are advised to defer the annual processes of filling vacancies for retirements and other leaves related to teachers and other staff until the minister of education provides an update to the sector on or before March 15th," Naylor continued.

The memo comes as the government reviews feedback obtained during recent consultations on class sizes in Ontario. Changes could include the removal of the cap on kindergarten and primary grade class numbers.

School boards have previously expressed fears that they could be hit by funding cuts as the Progressive Conservatives look to dig the province out of a $13.5-billion deficit.

'It's going to be very difficult'

Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board — the largest board in Ontario — says the memo makes it "pretty obvious" that bad news is likely on the horizon when it comes to boards' budgets. 

"It's going to be very difficult," Pilkey said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"Decisions are going to be made that, frankly, I think a lot of parents will be unhappy with. Our board has a large budget, but we don't have a lot of flexibility in that budget due our collective agreement."

This year will see the Ontario's elementary school teachers' union renegotiate terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the government. 

Pilkey said she believes the ministry of education is sending a "shot across the bow" before the talks commence.

"I think of all this is skirmishing in advance of the contract negotiations."

Meanwhile, the provincial government is also considering eliminating full-day kindergarten after the 2019-2020 school year, though it has committed to keeping some form of "full-day learning" in place. It recently completed consultations on the matter. 

Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said all of the education-related consultations have failed to incorporate key voices in the conversation around what school boards need, and that the government has not adequately communicated what changes it expects to implement.

"We're in the dark. We get memos in the middle of the night. We have no idea what they're looking at. They haven't spoken to our directors of education about priorities that school boards have," Rizzo said.

She added that she is concerned that province will attempt to balance its budget "on the backs of kids."

PCs taking 'hard look' at school board spending

In an email statement issued Friday afternoon, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said she wants "parents to know that it is my number one priority to ensure each and every student will have access to a meaningful education."

"To achieve this, we need to take a hard look at how school boards spend their money and make sure every single dollar invested in our education system, is a dollar invested in a student's future," Thompson said.

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park, the NDP's education critic MP Marit Stiles said the government is "setting the stage for deep cuts in the classroom."

She said the hiring freeze will mean that "critical education positions" will go unfilled for the new school year, and that educators will be asked to do far more with fewer resources.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has not revealed when the provincial budget will be released, though it generally occurs some time in the spring. 

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