Sounding the Alarm – Budget Commentary

Newsletter, Toronto Education Workers, CUPE June 15, 07

Our Jobs, Pools & Schools Again Under Attack

This Monday, June 11th, I circulated an email entitled “Sound the Alarm “ in which I was able to spread some very disturbing (and potentially damaging) information through the extensive e-mail list of Campaign for Public Education. Once again, the Tory / Liberal funding formula has resulted in major cuts for caretakers, educational assistants (kindergarten), plus pools and school closures (see page below for details).

If that news wasn’t bad enough, this dirty piece of work was only introduced to some of the Trustees who attended the June 6th “Budget Presentation” — just three weeks before the last scheduled Board meeting. Although funding for the TDSB was released by the province in mid-March, there seemed to be no intention of having the Trustees spend much time on such massive issues as setting the budget without enough money to pay for what we do, developing an asset management plan, and setting up an “arms’ length” body to deal with real estate, including leasing or selling schools.

Consultations with the parents, unions and the wider communities – something we were able to successfully fight for under Tory supervision – is not even on the horizon. This is a stunning abuse of trust and a major hit on basic democratic principles.

Here’s the next kicker and it is a doozey! The proposal is for a two year budget, cleverly put together like a ticking time bomb. While some of the deficit next year will be “covered” by again removing $40 million from maintenance, the big ticket cuts (Caretaking, Educational Assistants, closing pools, etc) will be in year two – safely after the October 10th election!

“Sounding the Alarm” apparently resulted in 4 more (NEW) meetings being scheduled in the very busy last two weeks of June. This is good for the Trustees, but it still leaves the rest of us wondering how to influence what should be a publicly-accountable institution.

The sad truth is that we still don’t have enough money from the province to pay our utilities, caretaking and maintenance ($75 million), school offices ($24 million) or ongoing salaries & benefits ($27 million), among other things.

If education is to be one of the provincial Liberals’ shining examples of how well this government has done, they (and their friends) do not want the Toronto public to hear that the Toronto District School Board is $126 million short in these 3 areas alone.

No matter how often the politicians insist that education has been restored, those of us who work here (and keep carrying the burden of the cuts, downsizing of work and increasing workload) know it is not true and that the Emperor has no clothes.

This is all being done with the backdrop of communities and youth in crisis – the “Children of Harris” — who have lived their whole lives paying for the tax cuts given to the rich by the Tories (and left in place by the Liberals). The wholesale destruction of supportive programs and services for children and families both in our schools and in our communities, is the legacy of governments that are not catering to the interests of the majority of our society.

We can never forget that the first move by the Harris Tory government was to cut welfare by 22% and that the majority of people on welfare were (and are) kids. To this day, the massive cuts have yet to be restored. Gone, too are access to affordable higher education, and affordable housing. Good-paying jobs, which pay a minimum of $10 an hour, are still 1000 days away..

The massive damage done by the Tories needed major restoration by the Provincial Liberals. Instead, the Liberals have governed as if there were no major crises other than the “unexpected” inherited provincial deficit.

Premier McGuinty again has made “no taxes” his main platform, thereby turning his back on the over $9 billion a year in income from the corporate sector that the Tories gave away when they were in office.

Serious under funding – especially in the education sector — is not just a "Toronto" problem. It is an Ontario – wide problem. Newspaper clippings from all over the province document that far too many boards are raiding reserves, bypassing maintenance and chopping positions — especially special needs Education Assistants and Caretaking – in order to have a so-called "balanced budget". They, too, are closing schools so I’m watching for a surprise “end of June” Toronto meeting on how to raid the pantry of our billions in property assets. If it happens, they hope you will never see them coming.

I expected better from Kathleen Wynne, and the provincial Liberals who know that they left the Tory funding in place and that it doesn’t work. The Tories’ Rozansky commission told us so years ago. And we have continued to tell them ever since. As we head into the summer prior to the elections, the Liberals have some explaining to do.

But the Liberals won’t be around to answer any difficult questions that may come up. They closed down parliament three weeks early, so when the parents and communities in Toronto (and around the province) get the bad news, they will be safely tucked away from the prying questions of the media. Slick.

But the real question is, of course, how can our own Board, under the leadership of Chair Sheila Ward, be a part of this manipulative and disingenuous sham? And how many will be placing the needs of the party before the needs of their schools? I am reminded of an old union song: "Which Side Are You On"?

But I guess I know the answer to that question.

THE BAD NEWS

Unless we can get major publicity and action, working with our allies at the Campaign for Public Education, here’s what the next two years are going to look like:

* Permanent reduction to caretaking & maintenance — $40.0 M

* Reduction to Kindergarten Ed Assistants by 514 people — 18.7 M

* Close 30 pools — $8.0 M

* Close the alleged gap in Continuing Education costs/revenue (money owed to ourselves to “pay” for heat, light and caretaking servies) — $8.0 M

* 3% reduction from ALL expenditures — $8.0 M

* Additional cuts from central departments ($8.7 M in 1006-07) — $10.0 M

* Reduce Teacher professional development — $3.0 M

* Take $40 M again from maintenance (to offset deficit) — $40.0 M

* Take $6 M from capital reserves funds / computer replacement — $6.0 million

* No additional funds for Safety Monitors, cameras, etc

* No funds for Phase 2 Model Inner City Schools Programs