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Thames Valley board eyes cutting 124 jobs to reduce projected deficit

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The Thames Valley District school board is contemplating cutting 124 jobs to reduce its projected budget deficit to $7.6 million from $18 million forecast in February.

Fifty-eight elementary and 24 secondary teaching jobs would be eliminated in the board’s preliminary $1.2-billion budget for the 2024-25 school year, a board report released this week says.

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Other job positions at risk include 17 early childhood educator positions, as well as jobs in speech and psychological services.

“This may be the most challenging budget year yet,” board chair Beth Mai said. “Funding has not kept pace with inflation so boards across the province are challenged to provide the same services with those limitations.”

Board administration unveiled the board’s preliminary 2024-25 budget in a 101-page report released to trustees this week.

The report says the board plans to cut operating expenses by $3 million in all departments.

Other categories targeted for reductions include school budgets, printing and photocopying, textbooks and learning materials, as well as $2 million in cuts to instructional supplies.

The board plans to reduce its special education budget by almost $1 million by using tablets instead of laptops and cutting spending on security by $300,000, the report says.

Other budget cuts that could be added to the list, but haven’t yet, include $500,000 in student computing devices, a $300,000 review of the board’s gifted program and two additional security positions to manage the board’s cybersecurity at a cost of $246,000.

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The report comes with a warning of major changes unless the Ministry of Education steps in with a cash infusion.

“If funding shortfalls continue, we will continue to face serious challenges serving the needs of Thames Valley schools, staff and communities,” Lori-Ann Pizzolato, a London trustee and chair of the committee overseeing the budget, said in the report.

Thames Valley is the fourth largest board in Ontario with 84,000 students at 160 schools.

The board has more than 5,500 teachers and 5,000 occasional staff, and about 2,000 support staff.

The deficit is being driven in part by a 13 per cent increase in mental health leaves for teachers, education assistants and early childhood educators since the COVID-19 pandemic began and $1.6 million in employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan expenses due to rate changes between 2024 and projected 2025 rates.

In 2018, the annual maximum contribution amount per employee for CPP was $2,594 and it has increased to $4,055 in 2024, the report says.

Absence costs for teachers, education assistants and early childhood educators have increased $13 million from 2018 to 2022.

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As well, the special education deficit is projected to be $3.3 million in order to deliver the “high quality education students deserve,” the report said.

Other pressures on the budget include salary increases, student transportation and increased costs of goods and services especially related to facility services and information technology, the report said.

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Because this year’s projected deficit is greater than the ministry’s requirements of one per cent of operating revenue, a deficit recovery plan needs to be submitted with the approved 2024-2025 budget.

As well, Thames Valley must have a balanced budget by 2026-2027 and a surplus balance of approximately $20 million – two per cent of the board’s operating costs – by 2027-2028, the report said.

Thames Valley staff are working with the Education Ministry to request approval to transfer up to $12.5 million from the sale of properties to the unappropriated accumulated surplus.

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Craig Smith, president of the Thames Valley district of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said he is meeting next week with the board to discuss staffing.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Thames Valley District school board full-time positions at risk:

Elementary teachers: 58

Secondary teachers: 24

Early childhood educators: 17

Clerical: 4

Educational assistants: 2

Psychological services: 4

Speech services: 4

Computer services: 3

Student and staff support:  4.6

Facility services: 3

Secondary principals: 1

Social work: 0.6

Second vice-principal:  0.5

Learning co-ordinators: 1.5

Board administration and governance: 2

hrivers@postmedia.com

@HeatheratLFP

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