Board will cut

Education assistants and teacher-librarians bear brunt of city public schools deficit strategy
Mar 12, 2009 Toronto Star LOUISE BROWN – In a bid to shrink a looming $23 million deficit, the Toronto District School Board has agreed to cut 36 teacher-librarian jobs, raise class size by one student in the poorest neighbourhoods and cut 150 education assistants, mostly in kindergarten.

The moves will save about $5.5 million from cuts to the education assistants, and $3.3 million from dropping 36 teacher librarians and by raising class size in needy neighbourhoods to 20 students, from its current 19.

Staff had asked trustees to drop 36 teacher-librarians by shaving their workday to 0.5 day from the current 0.6 day, to cut 150 education assistant positions and to raise class sizes in needy schools in order to eliminate 55 teaching jobs.

However, trustees stopped short of cutting those jobs, and instead agreed to reassign them to a pool of teachers to be dispatched where board officials see fit.

“In these hard economic times, when we know 60 per cent of children are growing up poor and will get poorer, we can’t pull teachers out of the most impoverished schools,” said Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

Cary-Meagher was one of several trustees who rejected any cuts at all, particularly librarians who are seen as key to literacy and teachers in the most high-needs schools.

“Forty years of research shows us teacher-librarians make a difference,” argued Trustee Irene Atkinson, who said she could not support any cuts to librarians at all.

However, former board chair Sheila Ward warned that to keep a deficit puts trustees at risk of having a provincial supervisor “come in and kick the crap out of the board.”

“I hate taking librarians out of the schools, but if staff’s best recommendation is to reduce our allocation of librarians to 0.5 from 0.6 per school, surely we can handle that,” said Ward.

While several trustees said students will need more help during a recession – not less – others warned that the provincial government will not tolerate a deficit in this economy.

“If we refuse to make these cuts, we are voting for a deficit budget and this provincial government has not hesitated to send in supervisors to two boards that failed to balance their budget,” said Trustee Gerri Gershon, referring to the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel District School Board.

The cuts have been justified in part by declining enrolment, said Board Chair John Campbell, and partly because new provincial caps on class size have reduced the need for extra adults to help teachers oversee young children.

The board still will have 263 teacher-librarians in its elementary schools, and also continue to employ 504.5 education assistants, even though the provincial government provides funding for only 32 education assistants.

The cuts, if approved, would not affect special education or French immersion.

The board also voted to let its 277,000 students enjoy summer holidays until after Labour Day, even though it means starting back on Tuesday Sept. 8.

With files from Kristin Rushowy