Teacher, EA cuts coming to Upper Canada school board

BROCKVILLE – In an environment of declining student enrollment, the Upper Canada District School Board will be facing some teacher layoffs this fall.

Board chairman Jeff McMillan talked about the situation facing the board and the “significant funding gap,” around $4.8 million, during a board of trustees meeting last night (Wednesday).

There has been $5.5 million in spending chopped from the $350 million budget, which includes includes staffing cuts.

“We are seeing reduction in our staff across different areas so, in some cases it maybe through attrition. In some cases we may be facing some layoffs. Teachers, in general, we always are faced with reductions in teachers because of less enrollment within our board,” Vice Chairman David McDonald told Cornwall Newswatch.

“Every year we are faced with the Grade 12 graduates leaving and having a gap between the junior kindergarten and kindergarten kids who are coming in and trying to make up for that difference,” McDonald said.

Roughly ten teachers – likely lower-seniority – will be laid off as teachers within the board office are reassigned to the classroom.

Another position within the central office will be eliminated, McDonald said.

“That $5.5 million in reductions come from different areas. They come from program, program support and facilities. There are different areas within the board that are being impacted as a result of those reductions,” he said.

One of the bigger cuts – about $540,000 – is reducing the time for educational assistants (EAs) by 15 minutes from 7 hours to 6.75 hours.

“The proposed cuts…EAs are (a) support process for teachers, so we still have a class, we still have teachers that are teaching our kids,” McDonald said.

The Upper Canada District School Board has been “among the highest” recipients of the Ontario government’s so-called “high needs amount” – a provincial transfer for special education. With a change in funding criteria, McDonald said its also being putting budget pressure on the board.

“That money was originally determined on a per pupil amount. We were receiving about $700 per pupil to provide special education programming to those kids. About two-and-a-half years ago, the province came out with a new plan to redistribute the money. What’s happened is we’ve seen an overall reduction over a four-year period in the neighbourhood of about $7 million in special education funding.”

McDonald said the board ran a $1.5 million deficit last year to supplement the province’s reduction and another $1 million cut is forecast from the Ontario government for 2016-17.

While there are reductions across the board, the UCDSB is actually putting more money into special education, McDonald explained.

“What we receive in funding for special education is being supplemented. We are providing more money into special education to the tune of $1.4, $1.5 million. So overall, special education is a small component of the entire budget,” he said. The UCDSB spends $40 million on special education of its roughly $350 million.

The budget has a surplus of $913,215, which is merely financial positioning to allow the board to draw on the projected surplus for emergency needs throughout the 2016-17 school year.

“Every year we’re faced with a potential for a further reduction in students who just don’t come through our door and we also have to make sure we have some flexibility to meet the needs the kids in our school,” McDonald said.

“It seems rich because we’re looking at a surplus but over the last two years we’ve had in-year deficits – we’ve increased our spending…in the school year. If we start the year on the right path we have an opportunity to support and supplement some things,” he said.

“I know that our staff have done everything possible to make sure that we look at the cuts that least impact students in the classrooms,” he said.

The board will meet again next Wednesday (June 1, 2016) to review the budget, which has to be submitted to the province by the end of June.