Toronto Catholic District School Board headquarters. Wikimedia Commons

Education budget cuts catch Ontario school boards by surprise

  • January 8, 2019

The rumours have been swirling through the halls of the Toronto Catholic District School Board that a more lean fiscal future will be the new reality, and a late Friday afternoon e-mail from the provincial government Dec. 14 did nothing to allay those fears.

That’s when the Ministry of Education notified school boards across the province that $25 million would be cut from the province-wide EPO (Education Programs-Other) grant that provides money for special education programming such as tutors and extra services for Indigenous and radicalized students. The fund will now provide $400 million to Ontario’s 72 school boards for the 2018-19 school year. 

The TCDSB said the cuts will result in the immediate loss of 95 part-time jobs at the board — 35 student tutors and 60 working in youth after-hour programs.

A spokesperson for Minister of Education Lisa Thompson said the government has found “a long track record” of wasted spending in these programs. 

Piled on top of these cuts, the TCDSB was just informed of an unforeseen $100,000 tab Toronto Hydro is demanding to test hydro vaults at its properties to obtain current fire certificates. Until now, Toronto Hydro provided one free access appointment per vault.

While these costs may seem like little more than a rounding error in a TCDSB budget that exceeds $1 billion annually, board chair Maria Rizzo sees it as a sign of things to come and is hoping to stop the bleeding before it gets out of hand. 

“I certainly don’t hope it’s a pattern but it seems to be and I’m hoping it will end in 2018 and not continue into the new year,” said Rizzo. 

The whispers heard in board offices say the province is expected to impose a four-per-cent cut on funding, she said. The problem with the EPO grants cut, Rizzo said, is that boards have been blindsided in the middle of the year when budgets are already set. 

“If we’re short, we have to balance the budget and we have to do it with the money we are provided,” said Rizzo, noting boards don’t have taxing powers to make up shortfalls and by law cannot run deficits. 

Ontario Catholic teachers also have concerns with the timing of the cuts. “It is unfortunate that the government did not take the time to properly consult with teachers and others in the education community, who could have told them the impact these cuts are bound to have on student well-being and achievement,” said Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

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