TDSB to scale back on programs, services as it approves budget that cuts $67.8-million over next two years

The Toronto District School Board will scale back on programs and services, including music and lunchroom supervisors, as it looks to balance its budget in the wake of provincial government cuts.

Trustees approved on Wednesday night a budget that will cut $67.8-million over the next two years, after recommendations from staff on reducing several services across the system.

Chair Robin Pilkey said the board has voted to make “significant” budget reductions to its central office staff so there would be less of an impact on programs and services for students.

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“That said, not all programs and services valued by the community could be saved given the enormity of provincial cuts to the TDSB’s budget,” Ms. Pilkey told reporters after the vote.

The TDSB’s cuts would happen over two years. It includes scaling back on senior administrators in the board office, and reducing the number of lunchroom supervisors and itinerant music instructors, who are musicians and not certified teachers. The board also voted to end the elementary international baccalaureate program, which has been offered at five schools.

The board has delayed by a year some cuts to busing for elementary students in French immersion and those in the extended French program that do not attend their local school.

The changes come as Canada’s largest school board wrestles with what it described as a larger-than-expected funding reduction by the government.

The board said its shortfall includes a $42.1-million cut in provincial government funding. It also has a structural deficit of about $25-million, a reserve fund that has given it flexibility to offer programs and services to students.

The TDSB has a budget of about $3-billion.

Stephanie Rea, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday that it is left to the TDSB “to align their costs and manage their resources to find efficiencies within their budget.”

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School boards across the province have expressed concerns about how students will be affected after the government announced sweeping changes to the education system earlier this year. Among them, the government said it would increase average class sizes by one student in Grades 4 to 8, and to 28 students from 22 in high school.

The changes would eliminate an estimated 3,475 teaching positions across the province over the next four years as the government tries to trim a deficit it pegs at $11.7-billion.

Ms. Thompson has repeatedly said that no teacher would involuntarily lose their job, meaning that positions would not be filled if a teacher retires or voluntarily leaves the profession. The government recently announced that it would spend $24.7-billion on education. It’s a moderate increase from the current school year, but it also includes a transitional fund that the government said would be used to prevent teacher layoffs.

However, several school boards, which have issued surplus notices to staff in recent weeks, said that other funding cuts could mean that they will have to let go of some educators and support staff. Boards have also had to cut or scale back high-school courses for the next academic year because of changes to class sizes.

Leslie Wolfe, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Toronto, said boards should be given the flexibility to run programs that serve their local communities, and many are now unable to do so.

“I’m exceedingly disappointed that local school boards across Ontario have been faced with having to make cuts at a time when growth is happening in many boards,” Ms. Wolfe said. “The entire crisis [with the budget] that is being faced by the Toronto District School Board can be laid directly at the feet of the Doug Ford government.”

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