The Upper Canada District School Board passed a balanced budget at its June 19th meeting which cut over 160 full time positions, more than 130 of which directly impact front line services to students. Those cuts amount to $11.7 million for 2019-20. They are only the first of many to come at this board.
While there is a certain level of blame that can be assigned to changes by the province, much of the blame for these cuts lay at the feet of the current board of trustees, their immediate predecessor board, and senior management. The previous trustee board passed a deficit budget in June 2018, and left incoming trustees with a $1.8 million deficit to deal with after the 2018 municipal election. The STEO transportation arbitration ruling last August compounded matters. So did the provincial cuts. However, the trustees are ultimately the ones who pass the school board budget, as it is recommended by senior staff through the Director of Education. And therein lies the problem.
Except for a single change, which simply moved a cut from one column of the budget to another column, this budget passed as recommended by staff. Yes there was discussion around the board table, both publicly and in several in-camera sessions, but in the end the budget passed with only one modification. If the budget was as unsatisfactory as the trustees have proclaimed, then it should not have been passed. They had another option – tell the Director of Education and board staff to get creative, and do better.
More than 75 per cent of the staff cuts at the UCDSB are to front line services. Very few personnel cuts in this budget will impact the board office. Students are not educated in board offices. Was every effort truly made to find savings in places other than in the classroom, or in vital services? Again we have no access to that full picture because of the number of in-camera discussions which took place. From the final shape of the budget, it does not look like enough creative, wide-ranging analysis took place. It looks like administration positions were protected at the cost of front line services.
In the end, UCDSB administration and trustees did balance the budget. But they did so on the backs of the most vulnerable – the students. These cuts will mean that those who need support in school will have to wait much longer in order to receive it, if they do at all. That issue lies at the feet of senior administration, and the elected trustees.