Globe on EA cuts

The Globe and Mail  March 5, 2008
Board to consider move to cut educational assistants

JILL MAHONEY  Print Edition – Section Front

The Toronto District School Board will consider a proposal tonight to cut its work force of educational assistants by almost one-third.

The option, contained in a staff report, would reduce the number of educational assistants to 477 for the 2008-09 school year from the current total of 691. The move would save more than $7-million, which is about the amount of the board's deficit for the current year.

Chairman John Campbell said the TDSB does not need as many educational assistants, who largely work in kindergarten, because primary classes are now smaller, with 23 or fewer children. The proposed cut would not affect aides who help pupils with special needs.

Combined with other possible reductions, the move would free some of the board's English as a second language funding for immigrant students. Like some other boards, the TDSB uses part of its provincial ESL allocation to pay for other programs and services. The staffing allocation report for the 2008-09 school year, which trustees are to vote on tonight, proposes increasing the number of ESL teachers to 242 from 178.

The union that represents the TDSB's non-teaching staff said reducing the number of educational assistants would do a disservice to all youngsters. Many work with kindergarten pupils who have not yet been diagnosed as having special needs, which allows teachers to focus on other pupils, said Katie McGovern, political secretary for CUPE 4400.

"You have to ask yourself, why would you take away help [from] the most vulnerable and needy kids and how is that going to help in the early learning years. This is exactly the opposite of which direction they should be going," she said.

Trustees are also to vote on a proposal to eliminate reading clinics, a specialized literacy program in Grades 2 to 6. The clinics are offered on just 31 sites, mostly in the old city of Toronto, and are more costly than the board's larger reading recovery program, which targets at-risk Grade 1 pupils, Mr. Campbell said. Older pupils with reading difficulties would get help from other resource teachers.