Toronto

TDSB scrambles to deal with budget shortfall expected to be 'closer' to $54M

The Toronto District School Board will have to make some difficult decisions as it scrambles to deal with a budget shortfall that it predicts will be about $54 million for the 2019-2020 school year, says board chair Robin Pilkey.

Chair Robin Pilkey says shortfall means board has to make 'different decisions' than in the past

The chair of Toronto District School Board says the board will face hard decisions in the coming years due to budget changes. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Toronto District School Board will have to make some difficult decisions as it scrambles to deal with a budget shortfall that it predicts will be about $54 million for the 2019-2020 school year, says board chair Robin Pilkey.

"Well, we are going to have to make some different decisions that we have made in the past," Pilkey told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday.

On Friday, the Ontario education ministry announced that it will provide $24.66 billion to school boards for the 2019-20 school year through its Grants for Student Needs funding, an amount that means the average provincial funding per pupil will be $12,246. 

Pilkey confirmed on Monday that the TDSB's budget shortfall, based on the grant funding announced Friday, would be about $21 million, but combined with its structural deficit, the shortfall will be "closer" to $54 million.

Grant funding for the TDSB will be $2.971 billion in the 2019-2020 school year, a drop from $2.992 billion in the current school year, she added.

Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, says about central staff teachers who provide classroom support: 'We don't know how many of those positions we will be able to fund anymore.' (CBC)

Enrolment is predicted to rise slightly over the next few years, particular in TDSB secondary schools, and that means the effect of the budget cuts on secondary school students means fewer options when it comes to choosing courses, she said.

Board 'still looking at the information'

Pilkey said board officials have to look at what is being covered by the money given to school boards. Some money may be earmarked for child care benefits, she added.

"We are still looking at the information. When the province provides the money, like they did on Friday, they just give big numbers. They don't give the technical papers, where they describe kind of what you are supposed to do with it, or if they have any parameters or limitations around it," she said.

"Some of that information will come out in the next couple of weeks. Obviously, staffing is the largest cost to any board."

The budget shortfall will likely mean fewer options when it comes to choosing courses at the secondary school level, the TDSB says. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Attrition fund means less of 'a big hit'

The government has also announced a $1.6-billion attrition protection fund for up to four years. If the board did not have the attrition money, Pilkey said it would be laying off 800 secondary school teachers this fall because of an increase in high school class size.

She said the attrition money means the school board doesn't have to take "a big hit" in the first year of reduced education funding.  Now, it will reduce the number of high school teachers over four years through attrition.

"We are depending on people to retire," she said in an interview later.

Teacher layoffs across the province have been high this year as boards prepare for expected budget shortfalls, she noted.

On Friday, the ministry said in a news release: "This attrition protection funding will help protect front-line teaching staff and prevent the risk of layoffs due to class size changes or e-learning."

The TDSB board will meet May 13 to discuss a draft budget for the next school year. The TDSB, which is the largest board in Canada, has 246,000 students in 582 schools throughout the city.

The Ontario government has announced a number of educational reforms, including a class size increase over four years. The average high school class size will increase from 22 to 28, while average Grades 4 to 8 class size will increase from 23 to 24.

High school teachers to begin bargaining 

Meanwhile, the province's high school teachers will start the early stages of contract talks next month in what could be a contentious round of bargaining.

Contracts for teachers and education workers at the province's publicly funded schools expire at the end of August, but Education Minister Lisa Thompson has invited unions to the table early. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation accepted that invitation Monday, which means that an initial meeting between the parties for central bargaining has to take place in the next 15 days.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof says he's expecting bargaining to be difficult, saying recent announcements from the government show they're prepared to sacrifice education quality.

Unions and school boards have criticized the government's recent moves to increase class sizes for Grade 4 and higher, mandate e-learning courses and reduce per-student funding to boards.

Thompson says she's looking forward to getting to the bargaining table.

With files from Metro Morning, Muriel Draaisma, The Canadian Press

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