UCDBS eyes cuts to curb $11.7M deficit

BROCKVILLE – Trustees of the Upper Canada District School Board received another update from their business consultant Robert Richard now that the province has released its final calculations on how boards will be funded for the 2019-20 school year. The board heard this update at a special meeting on May 29th in Brockville.

Faced with starting the budget process with an $11.7M budget deficit before even looking at the details of the upcoming budget, the board had directed Richard at a previous meeting to present the basis of a plan for a balanced budget.

Minutes into the meeting, the board moved into a two-and-a-quarter hour long private session. The nature of this session was not disclosed publicly at the meeting, or on the agenda. According to the Municipal Act, municipalities and school boards must declare the purpose of entering into a closed session.

Asked about the reason for the first session, and a second one held at the end of the meeting, UCDSB chair John McAllister told The Leader that the first session related to the budget discussions where “sensitive discussions at one level in particular may impact easily identifiable employees.”

He explained that if staff were to be eliminated, the board would not want that employee to learn of the job loss at a public meeting.

“It protects the privacy and dignity of the individual,” McAllister added.

The second session related to the annual review of director of education Stephen Sliwa. Sliwa, equivalent to a municipality’s chief administrative officer, is the only employee directly employed by the elected board.

Richard’s presentation outlined three levels of possible cuts to the budget, outside of special education. Previous presentations by the consultant indicated the board spent $8.6M more on special education than the province currently funds.

A low level cut is one that has a minimal or an unnoticeable impact on classroom or school operations: other related functions can fill the gaps in service from the cut. Medium level cuts will have some noticeable impact on classroom or school operational cuts and can’t all be covered by other areas of administration. High level cuts have significant impact on classroom or school operations and are most noticeable.

Low level cuts totaling $4.9M include: Early Childhood Educators – $925K; Changes to class sizes for Grades 4-8 staffing – $1.22M; Student success teachers for secondary schools – $830.7K; Changes to school operations – $610K; Eliminating vacancies in the finance and communications departments (two positions) – $140K; Reductions to TR Leger Continuing and Adult Education – $990.5K; And cuts to the programming department – $188K.

Medium impact cuts amount to almost $5 million and include: Cancelling the secondary school guidance councillor pilot project funded by the Rural and Northern Education Program – $1.9M;

Cutting system programming teachers (10 positions) – $1M; Twinning school administration for select schools in close proximity to each other – $423K; Eliminating two system principal positions within the board office – $283K; And eliminating one superintendent position – $206K.

Richard identified another $1.05M in high impact cuts including: More cuts to the programming department – $704K; And expanding the twinning of school administration to a larger number of schools – $345K.

Many of the cuts identified including those to kindergarten ECEs, secondary School success teachers, and office administration, mirror the reduction in funding from the Ministry of Education.

Richard told the board that if all three levels of cuts were implemented, the budget would still have a budget deficit of $800K for 2019-20. To balance the books, the board would also have to make low impact cuts to the special education budget amounting to $815K.

Trustee David McDonald (Ward 8) asked about the impact of provincial cuts to local priorities funding which amount to $3.8M.

Richard explained that some of that funding could return depending on the contracts negotiated with unions this summer.

The Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees are all in the process of starting contract talks with the province and English-Public school boards across Ontario.

The local priorities funding was put into place for all school boards by the provincial government after the two teachers unions signed their previous contracts in 2017.

“That funding could return,” Richard said.

Trustees expressed concern around the board table on potential cuts.

“This is strictly driven by our existing deficit. We haven’t even stepped in to the budget yet,” said board vice-chair Bill MacPherson. “At what point do we pick our comfort level?”

“We’re in a tough bind,” said trustee Donald Cram (Ward 1). “We can’t pass our budget quickly.” Ward 5 trustee John McCrae wanted some indication of specific job losses that will result from the cuts in the next presentation from the consultant.

The board continues its budget process with an updated presentation with answers to trustee’s questions from the May 29th meeting. It will also look at the next school year’s operational budgets at the boards June 5th meeting. McAllister told the board they would be meeting every week until the budget is presented and passed.

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