The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is poised to eliminate hundreds of staff positions due to the expiry of special COVID-19 funding from the province, prompting concerns from education advocates.
The Ministry of Education gave the school board more than $30 million in funding through the COVID-19 Learning Recovery Fund in each of the past two school years, which allowed the board to create an additional 485 school-based staff positions. But that funding is set to expire in August.
In a report considered by the board on Monday, staff warned that without additional funding, the TDSB may have to eliminate those positions next year.
Ontario Education Workers United, an advocacy group that supports increased education funding in the province, says this proposed staffing reduction comes at a time when students can’t afford to have less supports in school.
“This week we heard about the abysmal state of mental health support, and the increasing violence in schools – YET, here is what the [TDSB] is considering,” the group wrote on Twitter.
“We must say NO!”
The proposed staff reductions were included in a TDSB finance committee report presented at a special board meeting on Monday. If the changes are adopted, next year’s TDSB budget would account for 20 fewer secondary school guidance staff, 35 fewer special education support staff, 40 fewer school-based safety monitors and 35 fewer child and youth workers.
This comes on the heels of a report released late last month by the non-profit People for Education, which suggested that public schools in Ontario are facing a mental health crisis and that more support is needed for both students and staff.
It found that many students across the province continued to struggle with the “aftereffects” of the pandemic, including increased behavioral issues, difficulties with self-regulation, and other unaddressed mental health challenges.
The Ministry of Education says it made it clear to the TDSB in February of last year that the one-time COVID-19 funding would not be renewed beyond this year, but a ministry spokesperson says the provincial government “continues to fund education at the highest levels in our province’s history.”
“Including for the hiring of 7,000 additional education workers to support students. We provided $3 billion to the TDSB this year alone, and look forward to increased investments where students need it the most, focused on reading and math skills,” said Grace Lee.
Despite the recommendations by the TDSB finance committee, board spokesperson Ryan Bird says no final decisions on next year’s budget have been made.
However, other factors may also influence staffing allocation in the finalized budget, as the TDSB is forecasting a deficit of $61 million “due to Ministry funding gaps in a number of areas.” By law, the board is required to balance its budget each year by the end of June.
The TDSB maintains that the funding it currently receives from the province “does not fully meet the needs of students in Toronto.”
This sentiment is echoed by many board trustees, including Shelley Laskin, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton – Lawrence and Toronto-St. Paul’s, who urged the public to direct their frustration about staffing reductions to the ministry, rather than the TDSB.
“If [the ministry] cancels pandemic funding [the TDSB] used to hire staff, there will be staff reductions. And that is why we raised this in our February [meeting]. The public needs to know… just direct your outrage where it belongs,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Stay engaged as [the TDSB] the budget process continues… just remember we are funded through provincial grants that have never fully funded the needs of Toronto students.”