EAs stay

Education assistants to stay in classroom
Board votes for no further cuts to ranks
Toronto Star Mar 07, 2008 Kristin Rushowy

They work one-on-one with struggling students, assist teachers in the classroom and even give hugs when children need them.

And the Toronto District School Board's education assistants will remain on the job after trustees voted early yesterday not to cut their ranks beyond the 17 lost through attrition.

The equivalent of 664 full-time education assistants will remain in primary classrooms next fall, while board staff explore ways to retrain them as early childhood educators to help with full-day kindergarten – expected to begin in the fall of 2010 – or implement literacy programs.

Education assistants working in nonspecial education classrooms are largely unfunded by the provincial government. Board staff had recommended cutting more than 200 of them, saving $7 million, given primary classes are now capped at 20 students.

"We won, we won," said a jubilant Marie Coulter, a long-time education assistant at George Webster Elementary School in East York, who attended the meeting. She said the loss of 17 aides "sounds like an insignificant number" but actually affects a lot of classrooms.

Trustee Cathy Dandy, who proposed the retraining motion, said "we may have lost the EA battle because of the class cap," but she sees this as an opportunity to keep valued staff in schools and taking part in new initiatives, such as the full-day kindergarten.

Trustee Scott Harrison said the board should only retain – and retrain – the assistants if the province provides funding to do so. Now, the board will have to find the cost savings elsewhere when it sets its 2008-09 budget.

"I understand the trustee sentiments and school staff sentiments for keeping them; they are viewed as a valuable resource. But I am very, very concerned about the board's budget position," said board chair John Campbell.

Right now, its deficit stands at roughly $41 million.

"When you decide to retain that sort of personnel, it comes at the expense of something else. It might come at the expense of fewer child and youth workers or higher class sizes in the middle years…"