BROCKVILLE – Upper Canada District School Board trustees were given a grim picture of the board’s finances for the upcoming 2019-20 school year at a special meeting May 15th.
Roger Richard, a senior business consultant, updated the board on financial projections from the Ministry of Education and the impact on the UCDSB.
“There has been a real delay this year in releasing information on the funds,” Richard said, adding that the process is about a month behind so far.
With the numbers he had, Richard estimated that the board will see an $11.7 million hit to its finances in next school year due to changes in class sizes and enrollment numbers.
Initial board estimates show a reduction of 14 students in elementary divisions for the upcoming school year, and 194 in secondary schools.
In addition to the cuts in funding, the board currently has a $891k structural deficit for the current 2018-19 school year.
That deficit does not include the settlement awarded to bus companies through a 2018 arbitration case against Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario, or the increased transportation costs going forward.
Richard warned that the Education Act specifies the rules for running in-budget deficit, or compliance deficits, but that indications from the ministry show that boards are expected to submit balanced budgets for the 2019-20 school year.
The presentation to trustees featured mostly the reductions in funding from the province.
In kindergarten classroom, there will be a $925k reduction in funding for early childhood educators, however the ministry will increase funding for ECE supply positions to cover sick days. That increase amounts to about $286k for 2019-20.
Class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 classrooms will remain at its present 24.5 students per class, however Richard told the board that the ministry funded classes as if the average size was 23.84 students per class. In the end, the adjustment means a loss of $1.2 million for those classes.
The province announced an increase to class sizes for those grades as part of a change in its curriculum.
The biggest cut in funding for the UCDSB is in secondary schools.
Funding for those classrooms will be adjusted from 22 students per class, to 28. That change will result in a $9.9 million drop in funding for the upcoming year.
To offset those changes the Ministry of Education has added a $6.47 million fund for the adjustment from 22 to 28 students. That still amounts to an overall $3.42 million reduction to secondary school classes for 2019-20.
“We didn’t know how they would implement the change in class sizes,” Richard said. “What they have done is make the change for four years from now in the first year, and back fill the funding for four years while attrition and retirements occur.”
Richard said that he estimates 35 secondary school teaching positions will be eliminated through retirements or other methods of reduction for the 2019-20 school year.
“Of course we wont know for sure until we get into that year,” he added.
Board chair John McAllister said that the increase is only proposed and that a group trustees and senior staff are preparing a response to the ministry as it undergoes consultations for the class size increase.
Ward 9 trustee John Danaher asked about funding levels of staff to the existing collective agreements. Richard said that the collective agreements require paying for teachers based on a 22 student class, but the province is funding starting next year based on 28 students per class.
“You are not getting the funding for the $3.5 million difference, and will have to find that money from elsewhere in the budget,” he said.
Another hit to secondary school funding is a cut in student success teachers amounting to $830.7k in revenue. Student success teachers work as an additional resource for students in need of additional supports.
The province has cut the local priorities fund, which funded some aspects of the school board’s budget that resulted from the previous collective bargaining process with unions. That is a $3.64 million cut. Richard did state that the ministry indicated it may put additional funding back in depending on the contracts negotiated this summer with the unions. Contracts with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees are all up for renewal this summer.
School operations funding is also being reduced by $610k and relates to the increase in class sizes.
“The view is that the board requires less space to house those students, but it doesn’t take into account the realities of the board being able to dispense with the additional space,” Richard said.
He added that with there being a moratorium on school closures still in place, he wasn’t sure how the Ministry of Education expected schools to reduce unfunded spaces.
“The good news item is in student transportation,” Richard told the board. “Through no fault of the board or negotiation process did costs increase.”
The province is funding the outstanding $4.6 million deficit from the 2018-19 budget for transportation.
Staff outlined the current areas of overspending by the UCDSB for consideration. Included in that is $8.6 million in special education, $1.4 million for supply teachers, $1.2 million for school office staffing, and $766k for the rural guidance teacher pilot project. That project used money provided through the Rural and Northern Schools fund to put up to an additional full-time guidance councillor in secondary schools.
The board presently spends over $8 million more in special education programming than it receives funding for from the province, and they were already looking at a gradual reduction in spending in that department.
Unaccounted for in the funding is the outstanding $18 million retroactive settlement from the STEO arbitration case.
Richard presented a number of areas for budget reduction resulting from the funding presented. This includes aligning ECE, Grade 4-8, Grade 9-12, and office staffing to match funding from the Ministry of Education for 2019-20.
Also up for consideration was redirecting the Rural and Northern Schools fund to other areas with the guidance councillor pilot project ending this year; potential staff reductions at the central board office in Brockville; and reductions at TR Leger and the continuing education departments.
Reductions could be considered for principals and teachers assigned to the board office where there is not funding for a specific project by the Ministry, and through the programming department.
Ward 2 trustee Donald Cram asked if unused school space could be closed off due to the changes in class sizes and enrollment.
“It’s dysfunctional a bit,” Richard replied. “They [Ministry of Education] know the boards cannot react that fast to adjust the space based on the funding. As we go over the next few years we have to try to find those reductions, and start to think strategically how we are going to rationalize the space. But I can tell you right now you are not going to be able to do it for the 2019-20 school year.”
“Just to be clear, there is no consideration by this board in the foreseeable future to close schools,” board chair John McAllister reiterated.
Vice-chair Bill Macpherson questioned how there was still a $891k structural deficit when the board had just made cuts in March to eliminate the non-transportation deficit the board had for the 2018-19 school year.
“We cut a whole lot of little things,” he said. “So we could go into the year with this deficit accounted for, now we are showing $891k again.”
Richard replied that his understanding was that the reductions made before was to put the board into compliance. The provincial government allowed school boards to run budget deficits no larger than one per cent of the total budget to be in compliance.
He warned that the Education Act specifies the rules for running in-budget deficit, or compliance deficits, but that indications from the ministry is that boards are expected to submit balanced budgets for the 2019-20 school year.
“Many of those short term reductions you made was putting off something maybe you had approved already in the budget,” Richard said. “The assumption is that the item is back in the budget for 2019-20 unless you make a permanent cut.”
The board is planning weekly meetings now until the middle of June to deal with the budget issues.
More proposals will be brought to the board at its next special meeting on May 29th.
The board plans to have any proposed budget ready for approval on June 19th.