Investing in early years programming and student success should be the Toronto District School Board’s top priorities, according to parents, staff, students and community members who participated in the Toronto District School Board’s recent survey on how to prioritize spending.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents ranked those two categories of investments as highest importance, followed closely by differentiated approaches to serving students, and allocating staff to support all students, which were ranked as highest importance by 74 per cent of respondents.
The survey, which was accessed by 15,250 respondents throughout March and early April, was the largest survey of its kind in the board’s history.
The data were collected in the weeks immediately before the board received a memo from the Ministry of Education that informed them of cuts to the TDSB’s $3-billion budget. As such, the survey was conducted before the board was aware it would be grappling a projected $54.4-million deficit.
Director of Education Dr. John Malloy said the data will however support trustees and board staff in understanding the priorities of parents and the community as they make difficult decisions.
The survey asked respondents to rank on a scale of one to 10 their perceived level of importance of eight potential priorities. These included different approaches to serving students, early years, hiring staff to support all students, Indigenous education, modernization and accessibility, parent engagement and student voice, professional development and student success.
Early years programming was described as early intervention to support early reading by the end of Grade 1 and foundational math skills by the end of Grade 2.
Student success was described as supporting science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) initiatives and providing a variety of learning experiences to students.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents supported modernization and access as a highest priority, 62 per cent supported professional development, 55 per cent supported parent engagement and student voice and 54 per cent supported indigenous education.
“A majority of respondents ranked each of the eight potential priorities highly,” said Manon Gardner, an associate director at the board. “We saw strong support across the board, but knowing what those top two or three things are that parents and teachers are most focused on tells us which budget strategic drivers are considered of highest importance.’”
To read more about the consultation survey results and how the results influenced the Board’s strategic budget drivers please visit: Approval of Final Budget Strategic Drivers - 2019-2020
Challenging School Board Budget Lies Ahead
The board will receive a full picture of the budget pressures once staff studies the full details of the funding envelope for school boards – known as the Grants for Student Needs, or GSN – that was released by the Ministry on April 26.
Staff will be able to advise the Board of Trustees with a more detailed portrait of the budget shortfall, which may stay the same at a projected shortfall of $54.4 million or it may increase or decrease.
“We will soon have a clear picture of our budget shortfall. One thing I can predict is that unless things change with the Ministry’s funding allocation, we will be facing some very tough budget decisions. We simply cannot absorb a revenue shortfall of $54.4 million and continue to deliver programs and services the same way,” said TDSB chair Robin Pilkey.
“We will be working hard to ensure our students feel the impact of this projected deficit as little as possible.”
Legislation requires the TDSB to approve a balanced budget by June 30th of this year.
This year’s budget decisions are going to be far more challenging than any in the last several years. For one thing, the TDSB has a structural deficit that affects its budget every year. Its cause, primarily, is that the Board has been funding programs and services that respond to the unique and at times extraordinary demands of urban education.
Some of the services are outside of the Ministry funding envelope and most school boards don’t offer these programs and services.
In the past, the Board has made up the shortfall by finding savings and efficiencies during the course of the year in other areas of the budget – cuts that have not affected classrooms and students. But the Board is running out of options. “To keep programs we value, we will need to consider how we deliver then differently,” Pilkey said.
Challenging decisions will need to be made by the Board of Trustees to balance the budget while ensuring student learning and achievement and providing equitable allocation of resources so that all students, including those with special needs, receive the support they need to be successful.
Recent and unexpected changes by the Ministry of Education have also affected our budget and have contributed to our projected revenue shortfall. You can read about these on our 2019-20 budget webpage.