The Drummond Commission On the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services was commissioned by Premier Dalton McGuinty and released Feb. 15. It recommends dozens of cuts to education funding.

Ontario's teachers, trustees brace for cuts after Drummond report

  • February 22, 2012

TORONTO - Full-day kindergarten may be off limits to the Drummond chainsaw, but Ontario’s Catholic schools are still bracing for a lean season.

The Drummond Commission On the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services was commissioned by Premier Dalton McGuinty and released Feb. 15. In it, TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond recommends dozens of cuts to education funding. That’s never good news for Catholic schools, said Paul Whitehead, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association senior policy advisor for finance. Less money means less flexibility for school boards.

“Catholic boards need flexibility to be able to deal with their denominational mandate,” said Whitehead. “Adequacy of funding gives school boards the ability to make certain kinds of choices. In the period that is ahead, with whatever of those Drummond recommendations are accepted, it will have the inevitable effect of reducing the flexibility the school boards have. We consider that to be a general negative.”

Before Drummond delivered 543 pages containing his 362 recommendations, both the OCSTA and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association had submitted pre-budget recommendations to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. Both asked for more spending on everything from special education to fixing old schools to classroom computers.

By contrast, the Drummond Report names strategies for cutting education spending.

“Education is the most quantified and the most monetized of all the sections of the report,” notes Whitehead. “It was probably the easiest section of the report for the Drummond commission to write, because they were able to say, ‘If you do this you will save this much, if you do that then you will save that much.’ When you look through other ministries you get very little of that.”

OECTA wants to see classroom spending protected when the provincial budget comes out in March.

“We’re number five in the world,” OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer points out, referring to recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rankings of school systems.

Even in an age of austerity, Ontario needs to continue its recent progress, he said.

“Focus on classrooms. Focus on teachers. Focus on student support,” he told The Catholic Register.

OECTA’s pre-budget submission identifies savings it thinks the government should move on. The union sees board administration getting bloated and wants to slim down the Education Quality and Accountability Office by going from annual universal testing for literacy and numeracy to targeted, random testing.

“The 2010 Ontario budget asked boards to reduce spending on senior administration by 10 per cent. In reality, these expenditures have continued to increase,” said the OECTA pre-budget submission.

A 25-per-cent cut to spending at board offices would give back $150 million in annual savings, according to OECTA.

“The fact of the matter is that board administrations tend to be quite lean,” said Whitehead.

People expect a lot out of their school systems, and they want concrete, quantifiable results. Boards can’t measure results or oversee multiple initiatives without adequate, up-to-date management, said Whitehead.

Schools would be more efficient and could teach more effectively if they weren’t using 10-year-old computer systems, according to the OCSTA pre-budget submission. The trustees ask for an infusion of cash to update computer systems used in classrooms and by administration.

“(Drummond) suggests that the budget for instructional materials, textbooks and computers be cut back by 25 per cent a year. That line has already been cut back the two most recent years, and that presents a serious problem,” said Whitehead.

The teachers’ union and the trustees agree on the need for more realistic and greater funding for special needs students. Collectively the 29 Catholic school boards will spend $67.4 million more than they’ve been allocated in 2012-13 on special education.

The teachers and the trustees are enthusiastic supporters of early childhood education, but see a gap between funding and the province’s ambitions for full-day kindergarten and junior kindergarten.

Insufficient capital funding to equip classrooms has been a stumbling block, according to the trustees. Setting average class sizes at 26 has led to odd distortions in how the program is implemented, say the teachers.

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