TDSB passes balanced budget in the wake of $42M in provincial cuts

Toronto’s largest school board voted in favour of a balanced budget Wednesday night in the face of a $67.8- million shortfall that will affect various programs, services and staff.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) passed the budget by a vote of 18 to 4, despite the concerns of some parents who hoped to see it run a deficit to avoid cuts they worry might negatively impact students.

The cuts will take place over a two-year period: $46 million in the first year and $21 million in the second, when the board also plans to invest $6 million. The board first proposed tightening in several areas and chopping a number of staff after a $42.1-million cut in provincial government funding that caused “serious concerns.”

Initial plans included slashing bus service for French immersion programs, but last week, the board found a way to keep that going.

Among the areas facing cuts are elementary International Baccalaureate programs, core leadership teams for programs like art and music; robotics and science; and health and physical education.

Cuts to student support services are also prompting concern.

Kimberly Perry, who works in that area, says about 20 roles, including social workers and speech pathologist positions, will be eliminated.

“As we try to promote mental health and wellbeing here, we are cutting some of the direct supports that help young people who have these challenges,” Perry told CBC News.

The board says the cuts will have “less of an impact on programs and services” because of a $17-million reduction to central administration, which includes cutting seven superintendents.

“While there are serious concerns over the magnitude of provincial budget reductions, Trustees’ decisions through this process have been careful to ensure that our parents, students and staff will have sufficient resources to continue to offer an outstanding education experience for our students,” the budget document says.

Other areas facing cuts include outdoor education site staffing, lunchroom supervisors, 10 psychological staff and 52 caretaking staff.

The TDSB is legally required to submit a balanced budget by the end of June.

Relocating York Memorial after fire

Also at the meeting, the board decided to move students from the fire-ravaged York Memorial CI to the now-closed Scarlett Heights school building in September, instead of continuing to share space with a high school nearby.

A TDSB report says students, parents and staff were “overwhelmingly” in favour of moving, even though the new space is 5.3 km west of York Memorial.

Two fires broke out at York Memorial in May — on the same day the building celebrated its 90th anniversary — causing severe damage to the high school at Eglinton Avenue West and Keele Street.

Students and teachers spent the rest of the year in the same building as the neighbouring George Harvey Collegiate Institute, where they had to share some rooms and facilities.

“While the George Harvey building has the physical capacity to accommodate the enrolments of both schools, there are not enough gyms, science rooms/labs, art rooms, and drama rooms for the two schools,” TDSB staff said in a report.

The school community also thought moving to Scarlett Heights was the best way for the two schools to keep their own identities and keep delivering specific programs, the report said.

As a result of the move, 59 per cent of students would live more than 4.8 km away from the school. TTC tickets would be provided to hundreds of students.

The board will use the Scarlett Heights building until there’s a long-term solution for York Memorial CI, where the building needs substantial repair work. A team is trying to save the building’s historical features and remove historical items and artwork, staff said.

Considering free tampons, pads

Meanwhile, a notice of motion is also before the TDSB  to put free menstrual products in all elementary and secondary school bathrooms by September.

“Menstrual hygiene products are not optional,” said the motion, put forward by trustees Stephanie Donaldson and Harpreet Gill.

Free menstrual products would help reduce inequality, end period stigma, and stop students from having to miss class or extra-curriculars, said the trustees, who heard from “hundreds” of students about the issue.

The motion cites a survey by feminine hygiene company Always, which found nearly one in seven Canadian girls have either left early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products

That’s “shocking,” said Donaldson, and a “huge inequity in the system.”

Students ask why period products aren’t in the same category as necessities like toilet paper or soap, Gill said, which have to be provided in school.

Menstrual products “are not cheap,” said Donaldson, calling this a way to tackle child poverty and help students learn.

The initiative would not cost the TDSB any money, the trustees said — their idea is to partner with another organization, such as Physical and Health Education Canada or the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association, which would provide the menstrual products and educational materials at no charge.

If the notice of motion passes, the board will debate and vote on the idea in August.

In May, the Waterloo Region District School Board became the first Ontario school board to give out free menstrual products, which will be in school washrooms this fall.

The provincial government in British Columbia has ordered public schools to provide free menstrual products in washrooms. A school board in Fredericton, N.B., has also said it will offer menstrual supplies in two high schools as part of a pilot project.

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