Toronto school board budget chops deficit, angers parent groups

By 
  • June 26, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Budget woes that have forced cuts to programs at the Toronto Catholic District School Board can be solved with a bailout from the province, says a local Catholic parent group.

“If they can bail out (swimming) pools at the public board for $16 million, surely they can bail out the board,” Murielle Boudreau of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network told The Catholic Register after the provincially supervised board revealed its budget, which will chop the remaining $10 million of its accumulated deficit, at a public meeting June 24.

Boudreau was referring to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's pledge of $15.8 million over two years to keep at least 20 Toronto District School Board pools open.

The board has approved a budget of $910 million. Supervisor Norbert Hartmann told more than 70 people at the meeting the board will save close to $1 million by changing trustee reimbursement policies and freezing administrative vacancies and save another $3.8 million by reviewing “the relatively large number of small schools,” consolidating administrative space and selling off surplus facilities, including closed schools which remain unused. At least 21 special education teachers will be reassigned, trustee expenses will be trimmed and the Arrowsmith program for students with learning disabilities has been cancelled.

The board has been under provincial supervision since last June when it failed to balance its budget and made headlines with news of trustee spending excesses. Over the previous three years, the board had accumulated deficits of $17 million (2008), $16.7 million (2007) and $18.9 million in 2006.

Hartmann said the board projects a combined surplus of $5.3 million for 2010 to 2012.

“The goal of supervision is to ensure that the board emerges from the process as an organization clearly focused on its mission and well prepared to deal with future challenges in a financially stable position,” he said while reading the budget report.

At least 21 of 67 special education teachers will be reassigned, with a review of the remaining teachers' assignments to follow.

Anthony Bellissimo, president of the Toronto English Catholic Teachers, said the cuts will leave special education students without the support they need. He also expressed concern the budget, first proposed May 27 at a public board meeting, has not changed despite concerns raised about special education funding.

Bellissimo hopes the changes will be reversed, adding there have been instances where the education ministry has provided additional funds for boards under supervision in the past.

The most controversial cut in the budget has been the Arrowsmith program for more than 60 students with multiple learning disabilities. The board estimates it will save $1 million in fees and staffing costs. Arrowsmith participants will now join about 5,000 other students who participate in the board's special education programs.

A vocal group of parents expressed anger and dismay at the meeting after Hartmann announced the demise of the program. The group has taken its concerns to NDP MPP Rosario Marchese, a former Catholic school teacher. Marchese said it's not so much a bailout that's needed, but adequate funding for the Toronto Catholic board.

“If kids are in special education programs and those programs work, they should be funded,” he said.

Included in the budget is $642.4 million for classroom instruction (teachers, computers, textbooks and supplies, professionals and paraprofessionals and teacher assistants); $224.49 million for in-school administration, teacher consultants and co-ordinators, school operations, continuing education and transportation; and $40.467 million for capital expenditures including new pupil places and school renewal.

Details of the budget can be found at www.tcdsb.org .

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