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TDSB deficit woes continue as provincial government refuses to step in

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The Ford government is telling the province’s largest school board it has to work out a solution to its financial hole, as trustees threaten wide-ranging cuts to key services will be necessary without help.

As it plans its annual financial plan, the Toronto District School Board has said it is facing a deficit of roughly $26.5 million for the upcoming year, even after some cuts.

At a meeting on April 4, the board cut $17 million from its financial plan, including $5 million from the school renewal fund and $7 million from its support staff self-wellness pot. Even with the changes, the board said it fears for the future.

“These funding shortfalls continue to jeopardize our ability to provide TDSB students with the breadth and depth of programs they deserve,” TDSB Chair, Rachel Chernos Lin said. “This also jeopardizes valuable programs thousands of community members have relied on for years.”

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The board has repeatedly called on Education Minister Stephen Lecce to send relief funding but the Ford government appears to be denying the request.

“We just doubled the funding to build schools, so we are giving school boards more funding even though there are fewer students in the system — particularly at TDSB,” Lecce said Wednesday ahead of the board’s latest plea. “We expect school boards to balance their budgets and put students’ academic achievement as the foremost priority. That is the message we are sending to school boards in Ontario.”

Financial disagreements

The government has said it is already adequately funding Toronto’s main school board, citing a figure of roughly $130 million in increased spending at the board since 2019. During that time, enrolment at schools in the city has declined.

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“The message to TDSB is they have $100-million-plus more and 10,000 fewer students,” Lecce said. “They need to exercise leadership.”

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Lin, however, said those numbers aren’t the full picture. Speaking at an event on Wednesday.

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The TDSB chair said the $130 million boost amounted to a 4.5 per cent increase since 2019, of which roughly 2.7 per cent came because of provincially negotiated teaching contracts. She said the increase amounted to more than an 8 per cent bump per student but said inflation increased during that time by around 13 per cent.

“I know the province will tell you they’ve increased funding to the TDSB and while that is true, it is not the whole story,” Lin said. “Yes, the ministry has provided the board with $130 million of additional funding since 2019 and enrolment has declined a little bit.”

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Lin said the board had been working to get on top of its deficit for “years” but despite reducing spending in some areas, it had failed to gain control.

“Over the past few years, our board has made operational cuts to programs and services to reduce our deficit,” she said. “These adjustments, however, have not been sufficient to eliminate it entirely.”

School sale plan

At the start of April, as part of its attempt to fill the multi-million dollar hole in its budget, TDSB proposed selling property.

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In 2017, before the Ford government took power, school boards were banned from either closing or merging underused locations. The measure was a temporary change while an as yet incomplete review was undertaken.

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During an April 4 meeting, TDSB requested permission from the province to be allowed to consolidate schools in order to sell of property it owned. It said the sale would bring in $22 million, reducing the deficit to just $4.5 million.

The provincial government refused.

“My message to the board continues to be that they need to act responsibly (with) their tax dollars and do what virtually every board will do and that’s balance the budget,” Lecce previously said.

Other cuts that could be on the table

With no sign of relief from the provincial government, TDSB is considering further cuts.

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On Wednesday, Lin said adult care, programs the board runs for seniors and adult language lessons could all be on the chopping block if it is forced to look for more efficiencies.

Lin said that even with the changes it has already made, TDSB continues to face “serious challenges” and “very real funding concerns” during its budget process.

She said the board needs the Ford government to “address these funding concerns” to avoid drastic cuts.

A spokesperson for TDSB previously told Global News options to try and close the gap included reducing continuing education, reducing outdoor education and cutting costs around sick leave. They also said reductions in school operating costs and increasing permit costs to rent TDSB locations were also possible.

With no sign of help from Queen’s Park, the province’s largest school board will be holding town halls to ask parents and community members how they think it should proceed.

Town halls will be held by the TDSB in its east, west and central areas next week. Details about the events have not yet been announced and are set to released”shortly,” the board said,.

“The TDSB requires a ‘New Deal’ that acknowledges the unique challenges of Canada’s largest school board,” Lin said Wednesday. “The Ministry of Education must fund our school board to cover the true operating costs in the City of Toronto and the unique populations we serve. We cannot continue to operate under outdated funding models that fail to address our students’ current and future needs adequately.”

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