“Vote vs a cuts budget” -trustee
Dear Etobicoke Centre Constituents:
I was elected to serve as TDSB Trustee in October 2010. I am honoured by the people who elected me, and I made a firm commitment to uphold and maintain the integrity of a system that would ensure success for all students. Now, I am writing to explain the dilemma I face as your Trustee.
As you’ve probably seen in the media, the TDSB is facing a $55 million funding shortfall in its operating budget this year. This comes after a $110 million shortfall last year, and a $55 million shortfall the year before that. Over the past two years, the Board of Trustees has cut almost 1500 staff positions (about 4% of our staff). About one half of these cuts can be explained as having some relation to declining enrolment. The rest are due to additional funding shortfalls from the provincial government, largely due to full-day kindergarten.
The board is running out of places to cut. To balance the budget this year, the recommendation from the senior staff and provincial advisors at the board include cutting itinerant music instructors, reducing school budgets (textbooks, computers, sports teams), and information technology.
On the capital side of the budget – used for major repairs, additions, and new schools – funding is now so tight, that the board is considering severing and selling playgrounds where children play every day.
The province will probably argue that funding is up by 33% over the past eight years, and enrolment is down by 12.5%. But the shortfall can be attributed to the difference between gross and net funding. If the province gives a school board $100 and then tells them to spend $120 on full-day kindergarten, then the gross funding may be up, but the net funding is down.
In a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, economist Hugh Mackenzie argued that, between 1998 and 2009, when you calculate the additional costs of the class cap, provincially negotiated pay increases, literacy and numeracy initiatives, and inflation, net funding was down across the province by $450 per student per year.
Ten years ago, I was involved with Toronto Parent Network, the organization started by Premier Kathleen Wynne. In 2002, the TDSB was facing an $89 million operating shortfall. Kathleen Wynne was one of the Trustees who refused to make the cuts to balance the budget. The province took control of the board and the appointed provincial supervisor did not make sufficient cuts to balance the budget.
I recognize that the board faces its own internal challenges, particularly in its facilities department. The board has taken action. Two years ago, we brought in a new director of facilities and gave him a clear mandate to clean up the department. Since then, he has changed the computerized work order system to flag jobs that come in over budget, put GPS on trucks to trace the exact location of workers, and investigated and fired 40 staff members who were abusing the system. We are willing to do whatever it takes to make the facilities department run efficiently.
These efficiency changes will not address the ongoing shortfalls at the TDSB. Even if the board voted to make the cuts necessary to balance the budget this year, next year we are looking at a minimum $20-$30 million shortfall. This will mean another round of cuts to school librarians, guidance counselors, music, outdoor education, etc. With no end in sight to the funding shortfalls and the demand for even deeper cuts, I cannot vote to make these cuts.
I believe that voting for the cuts this year is not in the best interest of the students. If the board does not pass a balanced budget, and the province takes control of the board, I do not believe that the same level of cuts will be made if the province is responsible for making them.
I am, however, hopeful of a solution. Ten years ago, Premier Wynne was asking the province to review and fix the education funding formula. The formula has not been reviewed since 2003, and the problems have never been fixed and continue to generate shortfalls and cuts on an annual basis. We need Premier Wynne to do what she was demanding a decade ago – review and fix education funding in Ontario.
5050 Yonge Street 5th Floor
5050 Yonge Street 5th Floor