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Unions pan Thames Valley board’s deficit-fighting plan to cut 124 jobs

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A plan by the Thames Valley school board to cut 124 jobs is being greeted with confusion, frustration and a scolding for the province

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A preliminary budget outlining proposed job cuts in the region’s largest school board is being greeted with confusion, frustration and a scolding for the provincial government.

Thames Valley District school board staff released a report June 4 proposing a list of cuts, including 124 jobs, to reduce the board’s projected budget deficit to $7.6 million from $18 million forecast in February.

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Fifty-eight elementary and 24 high school teaching jobs would be eliminated in the board’s preliminary $1.2-billion budget for the 2024-25 school year, according to a 101-page board report presented to trustees at a meeting last week.

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

The board has said 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.

Mary Henry, president of CUPE Local 4222 that represents 1,600 board employees including secretaries and early childhood educators, said the report is confusing because “nothing has been said to us about job cuts by the board.

“And when we ask they say there are no cuts,” she said Monday. “We just did redeployment and nobody has been told they don’t have a job anymore – I don’t understand that.”

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The Thames Valley board did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

Henry said her message to school board administration is “cut your own staff.

“They need to cut money in house and stop cutting staff because the children are lacking the necessities that they are required to have,” she said.

John Bernans, a local leader with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the board’s deficit is directly linked to underfunding by the provincial government and not teachers’ sick days.

“The actual funding per student has dropped by $1,500 when inflation is taken into account since this (Progressive Conservative) government has been elected,” he said. “It’s clear it is having a direct impact on student services. It’s going to mean fewer teachers and education workers.

“The deficit is there because Thames Valley is being underfunded by the provincial government.”

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Sandra Miller, president of the professional student services personnel, said the proposed cuts of four psychologists, four speech language pathologists and a part-time social worker will “negatively impact education workers and students” and will “increase violent incidents that students and staff are experiencing.

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“Cuts due to underfunding means that more students will wait longer than average for services and assessments,” she said. “Families may have to turn to private psychological, speech and mental health assessments and services and pay out of pocket, supporting the privatization of health care.”

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said provincial funding has not kept pace with inflation.

“Just like for families and businesses, all costs in school board budgets are going up due to inflation,” she said. “As we have not seen a corresponding increase in funding, there will be an impact on students, which we are now starting to see in 2024-25 school budgets”

The province requires school boards to prepare balanced budgets. A board is allowed to have a one per cent deficit if has a surplus able to cover it.

The Thames Valley board’s projected $7.8 million is more than one per cent of its operating revenue so the board needs to submit a deficit recovery plan with the approved 2024-2025 budget.

As well, Thames Valley must have a balanced budget by 2026-27 and a surplus balance of approximately $20 million – two per cent of the board’s operating costs – by 2027-28, the report said.

The board’s planning and advisory committee is reviewing the preliminary budget at a meeting Tuesday evening.

The board must approve the final budget by the end of June. Trustees are expected to approve the budget at a board meeting on June 25.

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.


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