Ottawa’s largest school board estimates the provincial government’s plan to increase class sizes and cut some programs will shave about $32 million from its nearly billion-dollar budget.
The largest single cut is to high school teachers. Fewer would be required if the province implements a plan to increase the average class size from 22 to 28. High-school students would also have to take mandatory online courses, which would have an average class size of 35.
Class sizes in Grades 4 to 8 are to increase by about one student, to 24.5.
The class-size changes will result in $22.4 million less funding by year five, when the changes are fully implemented, according to board budget documents.
That represents 250-300 secondary teaching positions, 10 to 20 teachers in Grades 4 to 8 and about 40 early childhood educators, the board’s chief financial officer Mike Carson told trustees Tuesday.
However, he cautioned that it’s too early to predict what the impact will be on jobs, as many details are still unknown from the province and the board has some flexibility in how it apportion funds.
The board expects to spend $972 million this year.
Across the province, the class-size changes will result in 3,745 fewer teachers, after taking into account enrolment growth, according to the Ministry of Education. That will save the province $851 million over a four-year period, according to Ministry documents.
Premier Doug Ford has promised that no teachers will lose their jobs because of larger classes. The positions will be lost by attrition as teachers retire or leave voluntarily.
However, jobs could be lost because of other provincial funding reductions.
At the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, for instance, here’s the breakdown of the major reductions by the end of four years:
$22.4 million: Due to fewer teachers because of increased class sizes in Grades 4 to 12 and fewer early childhood educators. The largest single reduction is $17.96 million saved on high school teachers.
$2 million: Due to elimination of a program that allowed high schools to provide courses they otherwise could not afford. The program now pays for about 22 teachers.
$8 million: Due to elimination of a two-year program negotiated in the last teacher contract that gave money to school boards for local priorities. The OCDSB used it to hire 88 people, including teachers for special education and English as a second language and educational assistants who help children who have special needs or behaviour problems.
The government is facing fierce criticism over the changes. Thousands of teachers protested on the lawn at the legislature, high schools students from hundreds of school staged walkouts, and several school boards have publicly criticized the cuts as harmful to education quality.
The Peel District School Board, for instance, said in a letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson that it would lose 500 secondary teaching positions because of the class-size change, but on average only 100 teachers leave the board each year. The cuts will hinder the board’s ability to offer quality education and impact the most vulnerable students, the letter said.
The chair of the Toronto District School Board warned in a letter that 800 high school teachers would be gone when class sizes increase and elective courses would be in jeopardy in areas such as visual and performing arts, humanities and skilled trades.
According to the Ministry of Education, school boards should not have to lay off teachers because of class size increases. The government will provide about $1.6 billion in extra funding to school boards over the next four years to keep on teachers as needed so that reductions can be managed through attrition and voluntary leaves, ministry communication staff said in a statement.
“On-the-ground staffing is based on local board decisions,” the statement said. “Consistent with prior years, there may be some layoffs in school boards with declining enrolment and/or school board decisions unrelated to the class size funding changes.
“Based on our forecasts, the ministry expects the elementary panel to be hiring teachers over the next four years. French language school boards will also hiring in the secondary panel over this same period.”
At the OCDSB, the impact will also be cushioned because the board has a surplus of about $7.8 million, which could provide a “soft landing” from some of the provincial funding cuts, Carson told trustees Tuesday. Enrolment is also increasing, and the province funds school boards based on how many children are enrolled.
In fact, the board expects it will have slightly more teachers next year. The staffing plans call for 3,172 elementary teachers next year, up from 3,153 this year. At the secondary schools, the board expects to have 1,705 teachers, compared with 1,694 this year.
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