Over the next week, students across Canada begin the next school year. For elementary and secondary students in Ontario, the return to classes may look very different from when they left just 10 weeks ago. And students may not actually be in the classroom for long.
Budget cuts at various school boards have impacted the classroom, especially at the Upper Canada District School Board. A total of $11.7 million was cut from the budget for the 2019-20 school year from that board. The ancillary layoffs and job restructuring mean that familiar faces at many of our kids’ schools will no longer be there.
A big hit to school board budgets took the form of funding changes by the provincial government. While MPPs charge that they increased the overall funding to many school boards, including the UCDSB, that is not a fully accurate claim. Transportation and capital funding have both increased, but funding for programming has decreased. As provincial funds have been set for specific initiatives, school boards cannot take from those funds and spend where there is the most need: programming. This means that while a school board can now better afford to bus students to a school, one possibly in better repair, those same students have far fewer programming options once there. Class sizes will be bigger. There will certainly be much less help for students at risk.
This near “perfect storm” facing education in Ontario is further complicated by the possibility of labour strife. Contracts between the province and the unions representing English-Public and English-Catholic board teachers and the unions representing office and non-teaching staff in schools all expire at the end of August.
While unions and the government both say they do not want a labour action, we have not seen so much acrimony on both sides since the days of Mike Harris.
Regardless of the funding and labour challenges, all sides, all parties, need to remember one thing: schools exist to teach students. That is the purpose of a school: to educate. Anything that distracts from, or interferes with, that task needs to be dealt with without hurting students. Unions, administration, board officials and provincial government mandarins who ignore that challenge, who put politics above students, do so at their peril.