March 22, 2023
Dear Minister Lecce,
As you know, throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has done everything possible to ensure the health and safety of all school community members, while also providing the best academic experience possible for students, supporting mental health and well-being, and considering the needs of our families and staff.
Toronto and Peel Region were most frequently the epicentre of the COVID pandemic (prevalence of the disease on a per capita basis) in Canada from March 2020 through the Spring of 2022. Throughout this time, TDSB staff worked closely with Toronto Public Health (TPH) and judiciously implemented their directions (e.g., masking in Kindergarten to Grade 12, reducing class sizes, cohorting at lunch, etc.) to keep students and staff as safe as possible.
The TDSB was required to use reserves to fulfil the actions identified not only by the Government, but also by TPH. Reserves were used, for example, to cover the costs associated with reducing class sizes as the Ministry did not approve the TDSB’s proposed model of having prep time for teachers at the end of the day. As a result, to achieve TPH’s recommendation of reducing class sizes to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to support remote and in-person learning, the TDSB was required to use its own resources of approximately $55.1 million to cover additional staffing costs and $15.0 million for other COVID-19 related expenditures.
The Government and TPH’s health and safety directions were critical to maintaining the confidence of everyone we served during the health emergency. In following these directions, the TDSB incurred approximately $70.1 million in pandemic-related costs that were not covered by the Ministry of Education.
We are writing to you today to request that the Provincial Government repay the pandemic costs incurred by the TDSB so that we can continue to deliver the programs and services that students require for academic success, safety and well-being.
Prior to the pandemic, the TDSB faced a structural deficit due to the misalignment between TDSB commitments and the Provincial funding formula. It was not possible to address this structural deficit during the pandemic as every available resource was needed to support student and staff safety and continued learning.
As a result, the TDSB now faces a deficit of approximately $61 million for the 2023-24 school year according to the Board’s Preliminary Operating Financial Position. We have depleted any working reserves and used reserves put away for other purposes. If the pandemic costs incurred by the Board were reimbursed by the Ministry, the TDSB would have additional funding to support its current financial shortfall without having to reduce programs and services for students.
While the Ministry of Education did provide additional investments to school boards during the pandemic, education and childcare received only 2% of the province’s overall pandemic spending. Throughout the course of the pandemic, the Province of Ontario provided $1.6 billion in direct payments to families and an additional $365 million in direct payments for tutoring.
In addition, in November 2022, the Provincial Government committed to funding one-third of Toronto’s municipal pandemic-related operating budget shortfall of $700 million. Once again, we are asking that the Provincial Government similarly recognize the impact of the pandemic on the TDSB’s financial situation and reimburse the Board for pandemic costs that were required to keep students, staff and the community safe.
We are also very concerned that pandemic funding will not continue for 2023-2024. The impacts of the pandemic are not over and the TDSB still needs to provide additional transition supports. This funding of $31.5 million allowed TDSB to put an additional 485 staff resources into the system. This included teachers, social workers, child and youth workers, caretaking and vice-principals, among other categories, and we are worried about the ramifications to student well-being with the reduction of this funding. As you can imagine, given the rise in violent incidents involving youth in Toronto, the reduction of adults in our building and correlating loss of support to our students is a major cause for concern and may compromise school safety. With the effects of the pandemic, cuts to funding seem reckless and harmful to students, now more than ever. This funding must continue.
An additional budget pressure that the TDSB currently faces relates to employee benefit (LTD, WSIB, CPP, EI) and sick leave cost increases that are not funded by the Ministry. For 2023-24, TDSB employee benefits and sick leave costs are projected to be underfunded by $48.6 million. Therefore, we request that the Ministry commit to funding the actual costs of employee benefits and sick leave for all Ontario school boards.
We look forward to your response and welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you in the weeks ahead as the TDSB works to pass a balanced budget before the deadline of June 30 as outlined in the Education Act. We need adequate, stable and predictable Ministry funding to provide the necessary programs and services for our students’ academic success and well-being so that they may emerge from the pandemic ready for whatever comes their way.
Rachel Chernos Lin Colleen Russell-Rawlins
Chair, Toronto District School Board Director, Toronto District School Board