At least 600 teaching and other staff positions at public schools in the GTA have been eliminated ahead of the new school year, but Ontario’s education minister says the cuts were achieved through attrition.
Budget data from Peel, Durham, Hamilton-Wentworth and Halton district school boards show they shed the equivalent of 592 full-time jobs, including more than 400 elementary and secondary school teaching positions.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says by the end of September the picture will be clearer, but that teachers and other school staff are regularly declared surplus and then recalled to their jobs each fall and this year is no different.
When it comes to educators themselves and the support staff we are still seeing recall of those workers overwhelmingly coming back,” Lecce told reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday. “Recalls will happen well into September – not just under this premier, but under any government ostensibly in my lifetime.”
The data from other GTA public boards adds to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announcement on Tuesday that it cut 296 full-time positions.
Responding to that news, Lecce said the TDSB has a “five-year reality of structural deficits” and job losses were not caused by his government’s changes to class size averages and school board funding, something the TDSB and opposition parties contest.
He said the TDSB should accept a standing provincial offer to conduct an outside audit of its spending in a bid to find savings.
“My message to any board that faces fiscal challenges that precede our government is take us up on the offer.”
Earlier this year, previous Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that average class sizes in grades 4 to 8 would increase from 23 students to 24, while grade 9 to 12 classes would grow from 22 to 28 students on average.
The Ministry says the change will result in 3,475 teaching positions lost across Ontario but insists the cuts will be achieved through attrition.
Boards break down job losses
In Peel Region, board communications manager Carla Perreira said that all of the cuts to elementary school teaching positions made this year were achieved through attrition.
On the secondary school side, 68 teachers were declared surplus in the budget and 62 of them were moved to long-term occasional teaching positions so they could keep working. Six others did not return to school due to other circumstances such as parental leaves.
“About 30 (early childhood educators) were declared surplus in the spring and we expect to recall most, if not all of them, by (Sept. 24) as we continue to receive resignations and retirements,” Perreira said.
A total of 180 teaching positions were eliminated at the Peel District School Board.
At the Halton Region District School Board, 83 secondary school teaching jobs were cut and net 10 elementary teaching positions were added, due to significant growth in elementary school enrollment in the region.
Seventeen special education teaching positions were cut and eight librarian positions were cut, to be replaced by ten library technicians who are paid less.
In the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, 56 high school and 34 elementary teaching positions were cut as part of an overall reduction of 120 full-time jobs.
In Durham Region, 48 elementary teaching positions and five special education teaching jobs at the high school level were cut.
York Region District School Board passed a 2019-2020 budget in July, but communications staff declined to provide it to CP24 when asked Wednesday, saying it would be ready “early this fall.”
The provincial class size edict is a major reason that the number of positions eliminated this year is much higher than usual, said Annie Kidder, president of the non-profit advocacy group People for Education.
“It’s not normal at all – the numbers that are coming out from boards across Ontario are the realities now in place because of provincial funding cuts,” she said. “Now they know exactly how much money they have and in many boards (workers) have already been laid off.”
Kidder echoed Lecce’s statement that more would be known a few weeks into September, but she said it is not a certainty all the reductions can be made through attrition.
“We’re partly seeing attrition. The other things, there’s no guarantee that it will work through attrition.”
Like the TDSB, each board is also cutting positions such as custodial staff, library workers and other support workers for students needing additional help.
Opposition NDP education critic Marit Stiles issued a statement Wednesday saying the job reductions will diminish students’ experience at school.
“Next week, students will go back to school to find Doug Ford has taken away guidance counsellors, music instructors and custodial staff. They are losing caring adult guidance, losing course options, and even losing rooms — they’ll go back to school next week to find classrooms shuttered and padlocked.”
Former Ontario Premier and Liberal education critic Kathleen Wynne took issue with the idea that losing teaching positions through attrition is something the public should think is acceptable.
“Attrition is thrown out as this panacea, that somehow because it’s attrition nobody is going to be hurt, but the fact that a position lost through attrition means there is one fewer adult at a school.”
Lecce said that he is confident school boards will be able to provide adequate education for students this year, announcing that $55 million of a $200 million fund meant to improve math instruction in schools will be made available next month.
“We put have put more money writ large in the system, and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said.
Kidder said provincial governments are free to alter education funding however they see fit, but no one is yet sure if the Ford government’s cuts will impact education quality.
“The real discussion here is can you take this amount of funding out of education and still provide the kind of rich education every student needs.”
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com