Promised PC spending cuts loom large for Ontario educators at Toronto conference

Educators at an annual conference in Toronto said Saturday that the Progressive Conservative government's promise of spending cuts looms large for many of them.

Some worry education funding could be reduced as province tries to reach a balanced budget

Christy Heath, who works with the Toronto public school board, said some funding meant for parent programs has not come through yet. (CBC)

Educators at an annual conference in Toronto said Saturday that the Progressive Conservative government's promise of spending cuts looms large for many of them. 

In September, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the previous Liberal government had left a deficit nearly $8 billion larger than it reported in its last budget in the spring of this year. 

"The hole is deep and it will require everyone to make sacrifices without exception," Fedeli told reporters. 

While Premier Doug Ford has said that teachers' jobs are safe, he has repeatedly promised to return Ontario to financial balance. That has left some in the education field to wonder how that will play out as the government assembles its provincial budget. 

"This particular government, is focused on cuts. That's going to hurt an awful lot of kids, an awful lot of schools," said Diane Dewing, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation, a union that represents some 160,000 public school teachers. 

Dewing was one of 300 educators who attended the conference, hosted by People for Education, a non-profit advocacy organization based out of the University of Toronto. 

Christy Heath, a shared services liaison with the Toronto District School Board, said by this point in the year, her school council has usually received an annual grant that goes toward encouraging parent participation. 

"We are, as it looks, not receiving those funds, which is stressful on us because we don't have the funds as a parent group to put on these events that engage parents and bring them to the school," Heath said. 

Diane Dewing, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation, said she is concerned that cuts could be coming to education funding in the province. (CBC)

Louis Kdouh, a teacher and president of a group that advocates on behalf of parents with children attending French-language schools, said he's already started to think about ways he might make do if funding cuts come.

"We'll have to maybe see what we can do, how we can manage to deal with our day-to-day classes and lessons," he said. "Maybe paying from our own pockets? But I don't know many [teachers] can do that."

He added, however, that he hopes the new government can bring some fresh ideas to the table. 

"I'm kind of optimistic that they will reinvent the funding, and try to collaborate and rethink about putting education first," Kdouh said. 

Louis Kdouh said that while he has concerns, he remains optimistic that the PC government could bring some innovative funding ideas to the table. (CBC)

In a statement to CBC Toronto on Saturday, a spokesperson for Ford's office said the government looks "forward to continuing to work with our province's educators and parents to make sure our children are leading the world in math and science."

But Laryssa Waler also echoed the finance minister's earlier sentiments. 

"We promised the people of Ontario that we would restore trust and accountability to the province's finances.  Let's be clear: if we don't fix the fiscal hole the Liberals left us, the services we depend — like healthcare and education — are at risk," Waler said. 

With files from Talia Ricci