MORRISBURG – Local MPPs Steve Clark (Leeds-Grenville) and Jim McDonell (Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry) have called out the Upper Canada District School Board for its recent budget cuts.
The MPPs have called for the school board to conduct an independent audit of the finances to determine where cuts should be made.
“Despite the record level of funding the Upper Canada board will receive for the 2019/20 school year, I’m concerned about the impact of your recently approved budget will have on students in the classroom,” said Clark in an open letter to UCDSB board chair John McAllister.
The UCDSB budget passed in June 2019 cut over 160 full-time equivalent positions from the board including 42 teachers and over 60 positions from the special education department.
“Like all parents, I expect the needs of students in our local schools and the front line staff who are so dedicated to supporting them be the priority of your board when it comes to setting a budget,” Clark explained.
Clark’s letter said that the provincial government’s Audit and Accountability Fund would be a good opportunity for the UCDSB to have an independent audit of the board’s finances to find “administrative savings and identify operational efficiencies to ensure every dollar possible is going to support students in the classroom.”
In an interview with The Leader, McDonell added to Clark’s comments saying that he was disappointed so many cuts were made to front line services when the board has received more money than ever before.
“Those cuts are contrary to the direction the boards were given with the funding,” McDonell said adding that the number of teacher cuts were unacceptable.
“There was transition funding provided in their budget allocation to keep teachers until retirements caught up,” he said.
McDonell said he was unhappy with the cuts to support staff as well and hoped the UCDSB board would agree to an independent audit to find other areas to reduce and avoid cutting front line services.
“That fund is there and very few boards have taken the opportunity to use it,” he said.
“It is good you are finally concerned,” McAllister said in an open letter reponse to Clark issued August 12th.
McAllister restated the reasons the UCDSB board decided on the cuts in June.
“The board has found itself facing serious budget pressures for 2019-20 similar to most boards in the province, due mainly to the provincial government reducing grants in a number of functional areas,” he said.
Much of the funding from the Ministry of Education is earmarked for specific programming, operational, or capital expenses and cannot be transferred to other areas of need within a school board budget.
McAllister said he was puzzled that Clark’s letter failed to acknowledge the “lengthy and very transparent budget deliberation process this Spring.”
“If there were uncertainties or a lack of clarity on your part, then it is even more puzzling why you did not persue my offer to meet,” McAllister said. “Instead, my offer to meet was left unanswered and more than a month after my communication to you, have you chosen to advise that you are concerned.”
He maintains that the board has a “multi-channel approach” to keeping MPPs and officials at the Ministry of Education informed about the board’s progress and challenges.
McAllister said that he had reached out in April to McDonell and apprised him of the boards budget challenges at that time.
McAllister said that the board needs more than the MPP’s concern.
“Rather, we need your support. We need you to seek relentlessly financial relief and accommodation for matters which were caused by the previous Government of the day,” McAllister challenged.
He said that he took comfort that the board has already seen some relief when it comes to increased funding for student transportation. But McAllister challenged the need for an outside audit.
“We find this recommendation to be strange, as the Board’s books are open, and we already have in place an extensive audit by external auditors annually,” he said.
McAllister said that the board’s position has been to maintain a “cooperative and positive partnership,” and that it was hopeful that the board can return to a more “productive dialogue.”
Cuts approved by the UCDSB in June go into effect August 31st for the 2019-20 school year.