Province to blame for education chaos, trustees complain

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • January 25, 2007
TORONTO - Timmins Catholic school trustee Colleen Landers fully expects to be laying off teachers in April and then hoping to rehire them over the summer. She and her colleagues on the Northeastern Catholic District School Board have sent out a sheaf of just-in-case pink slips before, and it's become part of the normal and chaotic budgeting routine for many school boards.

Boards send out lay-off notices in April because the Ministry of Education can't meet its own deadlines to provide school boards with basic financial information in March, said Landers. That leaves the boards guessing how much money they will have as they begin writing their budgets for the next year.

The board's agreement with its union stipulates that if a teacher is going to be laid off in September the teacher has to know in April. Since the board still doesn't know how much money it's going to get from the province in April, it lays off all its younger teachers at that point, hoping to rescind the lay-off notices in June when the province finally comes through with financial information it was supposed to provide in March.

It's a terrible way to treat your employees, but it's become an accepted routine, said the veteran trustee. In all her time as a trustee, Landers has never known the Ministry of Education to meet its own March deadline for getting financial information to boards.

"Never in 18 years," she said.

Trustees can be fined if they fail to meet Ministry of Education deadlines for filing their budgets and budget estimates, but the hard numbers trustees need to finalize a real budget arrive a little later every year. Last year the Northeastern Catholic board knew how much money it actually had in its budget in June, said Landers.

Speaking to a meeting of Catholic trustees from across the province in Toronto Jan. 12, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne dangled the possibility of some kind of financial information in March. She asked the hotel ballroom full of trustees from across the province what they thought of getting partial information in March. The response was that even partial information would be welcome.

The trustees pressed Wynne about having her ministry's officials hit the March target.

"I don't know if I can do that," said Wynne. "I can't give you a date."

The problem is that education spending numbers can't be released until the entire provincial budget is finally set, and that involves the whole cabinet, said Wynne.

A former trustee and board chair  with the Toronto public school board, Wynne expressed sympathy for the frustration of trustees who now spend half the year meeting to discuss a budget based on guesswork. She also admitted the Ministry of Education is snowing boards under with meaningless paperwork.

"In the name of accountability we know that there's often an over-reporting requirement," Wynne said.

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