TLDSB Hoping for Clearer Picture

By Kirk Winter

Director of Education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board Larry Hope believes that senior staff will soon have all the information that they need to timetable for 2019-2020.

The Provincial government announced in April sweeping changes to both the elementary and secondary school systems in Ontario, and all involved have been trying to read the tea leaves since.

Director Hope said the province consulted Directors of Education “a number of times in the fall before the changes were rolled out.” He believes there will be more meetings to come, particularly around the issue of secondary class sizes where the Ministry of Education has just unilaterally raised class size averages from 22 to 28 with little input from any of the teachers' federations.

Hope says he has been in contact with MPP Laurie Scott and MPP Norm Miller who represent the area covered by TLDSB, and while he has yet to meet either face to face recently, “there have been numerous ongoing conversations.” Director Hope has been “impressed with their awareness and engagement in the issues affecting the local board, and rural schools as a whole.”

When asked what “efficiencies” exist to be found in the school system Hope replied that “this government was elected to find savings.” Hope expects that “public sector procurement, particularly bulk buying, and non-teaching personnel like IT, Human Resources and Payroll will be coming in for scrutiny.”

When asked if the Province was considering a move to only one publicly funded school board as recommended by the Province’s own auditors, Hope said “that decision is up to the government. They have committed to supporting the four systems that exist and that a push for sharing between the different school boards is likely coming.”

I asked Director Hope the impact the proposed cuts would have on TLDSB and he was plain spoken. Hope said “long term there will be fewer teachers.” At secondary “there will be fewer electives and pathways and there may be an impact on Special Education classes.” He said all the directors province wide were waiting for the Grants for Student Needs (GSNs) to be announced.

Hope said with “the current government and its bureaucracy in transition” he is not surprised the boards are waiting likely till the end of April. Once those numbers are in place final staffing can commence.

When asked about job losses, Hope confirmed that their best math predicts that 39 teaching positions at elementary and secondary will be eliminated, and that is after all the board consultants have been returned to teaching assignments.

Hope believes that “there are many people in rural Ontario putting local pressure” on their largely Conservative MPPs regarding how important it is for smaller communities to keep schools which in an urban setting might be closed as too small.

Hope feels for all of his teaching and support staff as this process plays out. He said the “uncertainty is weighing on people’s minds and that uncertainty is creating anxiety.” Hope is proud of his 'excellent teaching and support staff” and realizes that until there is funding certainty, “schools will be challenging places to work.”

I concluded the interview asking Hope about what he expects in negotiations this summer as all education employees collective agreements expire. Hope said “I can’t predict negotiations. I hope there will be reasonable settlements. If not, the board has contingency plans already in place based on previous experience (labour disruptions).”