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Teachers' union blames province for cuts as Ottawa school board eyes balanced budget

The Ottawa-Carleton District Schoolboard (OCDSB) is balancing their 2023-24 budget with $19 million in proposed savings. The OCDSB logo is seen in this undated handout. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-OCDSB

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is proposing to balance its budget for the coming fiscal year, but getting into the black will mean cuts. 

A draft budget for 2023-24 tabled this week finds $19 million in savings, including cuts to what are described as "discretionary" education positions.

The president of the Ottawa-Carleton chapter of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says students will be negatively affected by a proposed reduction of 21 full-time equivalent positions.

Rebecca Zuckerbrodt, whose union represents 3,000 elementary teachers in Ottawa, says the roles that could be cut include learning support consultants and academic coaches.

She is accusing the Ontario government of inadequately funding public education.

A report by the union says it expects $12.3 billion in cuts to Ontario's education funding in the next nine years, and provincial figures show a recent decline in the share of spending allotted to education.

"The OCDSB, like other Boards across the province, faces difficult choices," Zuckerbrodt said in an interview on Friday. "This will impact our most vulnerable students."

She said Premier Doug Ford's government has shown a "decrease in commitment to education," and the school board's planned cuts are a "direct result" of chronic problems attached to the funding formula. 

Education funding fell from 18.3 per cent of the Ontario government's budget in 2019-2020 to a share of 15.8 per cent in 2021-2022, according to Ministry of Finance figures. 

"Ontarians deserve a steadfast commitment on the part of the government of Ontario to publicly funded public education," Zuckerbrodt said.

Michele Giroux, the director of education for the school board, said it made every attempt to limit staffing reductions by identifying more feasible options to cut funding. 

"We have been very intentional in trying to find opportunities for budget savings that aren't staff-focused," Giroux said during a school board meeting earlier this week.

"The focus of our work this year was to find budget saving opportunities, and to do that while maintaining the high quality of programs and services the school district offers."

The board expects to have an operating budget of $1.1 billion and a capital budget of $140.3 million in the coming year.

The proposed budget finds $9.6 million in savings from staffing costs, including $7 million due to employees retiring and being replaced by new hires who have lower salaries, $2.3 million from cutting the full-time positions and $300,000 from cutting a lunchtime monitor program.

Also going towards the $19 million in savings is a 10 per cent cut to school budgets. 

The proposed budget suggests that schools will reduce their use of paper and photocopying in a shift to using more electronic learning resources. The board is also cutting $400,000 from a menstrual equity program that provided free pads to students.

Other savings are expected to come from reducing computer and licence purchases, reducing third-party contracting for school programming and reallocating unused resources.

Zuckerbrodt said she feels the cut to computers and licensing raises skepticism about the board's stated shift to electronic learning methods. 

The spending plan includes investments in new school board initiatives relating to staff wellness training, special education, electronic learning, student success co-ordinators and the appointment of a school board integrity commissioner. 

The draft budget is expected to be debated during the next board meeting on Monday. School board trustees must approve the budget before the end of June, according to spokesman Darcy Knoll. 

The Ontario government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023. 


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Liam Fox, The Canadian Press

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