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TCDSB chair Mike Del Grande, left, and director of education Angela Gauthier. Register file photos

Toronto Catholic board could see 300 teacher cuts

  • March 19, 2015

TORONTO - Budgeting blunders that left an unexpected deficit, coupled with a potential two-per-cent cut in provincial grants, could leave the Toronto Catholic District School Board with more than 300 fewer frontline educators in September.

Accounting errors in the area of employee benefits left the board with a surprise $16.9-million deficit which was discovered shortly after last fall’s elections. Add on a possible cut in government funding and the board is looking to address a potential $48-million shortfall.

These cuts, which were discussed during the board’s March 2 meeting, aim to eliminate the budget deficit in one fiscal year rather than spread it out over the three years the province allows.

While the two-per-cent funding reduction is purely hypothetical at this stage, board chair Mike Del Grande is inclined to believe it is coming.

“If the government backs off the reduction of two per cent then obviously our problems will remain $16.9 million, it doesn’t become $48 million, but because we are in the process of trying to reorganize ourselves the province gave very strong indication that we should be looking at a two-per-cent reduction,” said Del Grande. “We’ve had a number of incidences indicating to us that you not only have to deal with your accounting errors but you also have to deal with additional grant reductions.”

Among the proposed cuts will be the board’s 57 primary and junior literacy intervention teaching positions as well as cuts to the board’s special education programming and library services.

“(But) we haven’t established anything yet because we haven’t voted on anything,” noted Del Grande. However, “we have two deadlines with the unions and if we are going to do any kind of notices and stuff they have to be done by March 30 for the elementary panel and April 15 for the secondary panel.”

Dave Szollosy, president of the union local representing secondary school teachers, rejected urgency as a rational reason for making cuts he says are a hasty and harmful response to a hypothetical problem.

“In some of the areas they were looking at proposing cuts, special needs for example, you are addressing those who are working with the most vulnerable of students who require the additional attention and energy in order to be able to succeed and thrive in our system,” he said. “Reducing those supports is damaging.”

Mario Bernardo, president of the Toronto elementary teachers’ local union, said the cuts, if passed, “will be quite a wallop to the system.”

Director of education Angela Gauthier said despite having to adjust how some services are offered, the quality of education, specifically special education, won’t be affected.

“We highly value the services we provide our special needs students and our commitment is to provide the best Catholic education within our means,” she said. “Our system, our teachers and support staff, will be able to deliver on that goal even with the proposed reductions.

We are committed to working with staff in order to enable all of them to retool the system accordingly.”

The board is looking at cutting 45 teacher-librarians and refilling those positions with library technicians at about half the cost.

And while both Gauthier and Del Grande insist the quality of services offered in the affected libraries won’t be overly impacted, others aren’t so sure.

“Teacher-librarians are an integral part of every school’s knowledge base,” said Shelagh Paterson, executive director of the Ontario Library Association. “They support your child’s teacher with new teaching strategies as curriculum changes are made throughout the year. They work with teachers to collaborate — to co-plan, co-teach and co-assess lesson plans — so that a student’s journey through education is current and comprehensive.”

Del Grande said the cuts will not “cripple” the system.

“This not new, this kind of thing goes on quite a lot,” he said. “There are a number of positions (and programs) that will be reduced but through attrition and through retirements there is enough numbers there that could indicate that people who are presently working will continue to work. But that again is a numbers game and it is dependent upon people’s decision making, whether they want to retire or leave the profession or go to another board or move or all those kinds of things.

“It is not a major impact.”

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