Education officials in London worry for math programs after provincial funding cuts

The Thames Valley District School Board Education Centre on Dundas Street, July 19, 2017. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Both the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) are worried about math-related programs for students, in the wake of the Ontario government’s decision to slash $25-million dollars in funding that would have given students extra skills and support.

The LDCSB says it “initially appears” it will lose $1.3 million from its $260-million budget, while the TVDSB says its mathematics grant last year from the Education Programs-Other (EPO) fund was more than $2.3 million.

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Laura Elliot, the director of education for the TVDSB, said the exact losses are a “moving target.” In some cases, programs have been cut completely. In other cases, she explained, the board received letters from the government stating the grant focus had changed and funding would be reduced.

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“The frustrating part is we are four months into the school year,” she said.

“We’ve started to work with our schools and provided professional learning with our teachers, and then we get this type of information part way through the school year which is extremely difficult for planning.”

Elliot said the Renewed Math Strategy grant, which primarily offered classroom teachers professional learning skills, is going to be replaced with the Fundamentals of Mathematics grant — but there’ll be less money for it.

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The public school board is also worried about its Well Being: Safe, Accepting and Healthy Schools and Mental Health grant, which received $309,000 last year. Elliot is unsure what kind of funding or replacement the board will get for that grant in the future.

“All of our programs are under discussion. In some cases, we don’t have any alternate forms of funding, so we really have to look and be strategic,” she said.

The LDCSB expects to be affected by changes to six EPO grants, and is expressing particular concern that its Innovation in Learning and Fundamental Math grants will be terminated, while its Safe and Health Schools, and Experiential Learning grants are being reduced.

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LDCSB trustee John Jevnikar feels the government is using the “most aggressive, adversarial way” to address financial issues.

“Our administrators are going through the grants and what the implication will mean because it is mid-stream. It isn’t like these are grants we’re going to use in the future. We are currently using them,” he said.

“It’s just a strange way for this government to operate.”

Kayla Iafelice, a spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said in a statement Monday the cuts were made to the EPO fund, which “has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments.”

The EPO fund will now total $400 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. An email was sent to schools boards on Friday containing a list of programs that’ll see funding reduced or cancelled completely, like programs that provide tutors in classrooms, extra services for Indigenous students and otherwise racialized students.

There are 72 schools boards across the province. Iafelice said each will be impacted differently.

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