Larger classes, program cuts loom for students in Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills

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Published June 3, 2024 at 5:50 pm

Larger class sizes and program cuts are on the table as the Halton District School Board (HDSB) grapples to balance its budget.

Faced with an $8 million deficit that it’s mandated to clear up, board officials say they have no choice but to make system-wide cuts unless Queen’s Park provides last-minute funding.

According to the board, financial shortfalls in the areas of staffing costs, benefits, busing and general per-pupil grants have put the HDSB near the bottom in Ontario for school boards in terms of funding received from the provincial government.

“This will absolutely hit classrooms if we don’t receive some help,” said board chair Amy Collard who said the system has been able to manage deficits in the past by dipping into surplus funds. “But this year it has hit us hard. All of the wage increases (gained at the bargaining table) are supposed to be fully funded by the province. They are not funding the increases to employment insurance and they are not funding the increases to the Canada Pension Plan…and that alone is costing our board $6 million in just one year.”

She went on to say the matter is beyond living within its means as the board has not been overspending but rather just trying to keep up.

“This is beyond our control,” she continued. “We have to provide programs for students and we do an excellent job of that. But the amount we are given by the government does not keep pace with the rate of inflation. We can’t provide what we have been providing. We have gotten to the point where we can’t tighten our belts anymore and there will be changes in our classrooms. We will see larger class sizes. We will see some programs not being offered, ones that have been offered before. It changes everything. It will change how we will provide special education. It will impact every single student.”

Specifically, the board is looking at increased class sizes for special education and kindergarten, reduced support for literacy and mental health, fewer classes in secondary schools, and reduced maintenance at schools. Because funding for transportation has not kept pace with costs, Collard said that, too, could lead to the loss of some programs.

While asking the provincial government for money is a familiar cry from school boards, Collard said Halton has a legitimate beef by pointing out the system has been at the bottom or near the bottom of funding for the past 15 years.

“It has to change,” she said. “We need help and the concern is real.”

Collard says board officials will be meeting with MPPs in the weeks ahead to express their concerns. She said with Halton having five MPPs –all members of the ruling Progressive Conservative government — she hopes they will have some clout with the decision-makers at the Ministry of Education.

In the meantime, the board will have to deal with its budget which has to be set by the end of June and leaves “no wiggle room” to embark on new priorities that can only move forward by sacrificing something else.

She said the parents can help by letting their MPPs know they are not happy with the situation. As well, she also said it is important for the public to respond to its multi-year plan survey to assist in setting the priorities of where the board should spend its money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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