TDSB asks for special exemption to consolidate four schools a year until provincial moratorium is lifted

The Toronto District School Board is requesting the Ontario government to give it a special exemption to combine up to four schools per year until the provincial moratorium on school closures is lifted to ease budget pressures.

During a special meeting on Thursday, TDSB trustees unanimously voted in favour of a motion calling on Education Minister Stephen Lecce to remove the moratorium placed in 2017 that has prevented school boards from closing or merging underutilized schools.

The TDSB said in a statement that the move “will help address growing costs to maintain underutilized schools across the TDSB and facilitate long-term planning.”

If the province decides to keep the moratorium in place, the board proposes that it be granted a special exemption to consolidate up to four schools a year. The TDSB noted that it would allow it to review schools with low enrolment and replace them with a smaller number of state-of-the-art schools with higher enrolment, which in turn would result in a wider variety of programming and more opportunities for students.

“Being able to consolidate schools would be a real win for TDSB students and communities and enable us to bring the programming students deserve, to each and every local school,” Chernos-Lin said in a statement.

“This important action by the Ministry would be incredibly impactful and would allow the TDSB to operate in a more financially efficient manner, and better serve the needs and aspirations of students, families, and communities.”

The board pointed out that it previously received $35.5 million in “top-up” funding per year to support the operation and maintenance of facilities where there was low enrollment, but that stopped in 2018.

In February, Ontario’s public school boards also called on the province to lift the moratorium on school closures and to finally complete a review – started six years ago – of how those closure decisions get made.

The previous Liberal government first promised the review and enacted the moratorium in 2017.

TDSB’s request comes as it faces a projected budget deficit of $26.5 million.

During Thursday’s special meeting, trustees considered several staff recommendations for reducing the deficit.

The TDSB said trustees approved to make cuts in central staff, supporting staff self-wellness and school renewal costs, resulting in a $17 million reduction.

As for the other options, trustees delayed implementing them, saying that they want further consultations.

Some of the proposed options being considered are scaling back International Language and African Heritage Programs, restructuring adult day schools, eliminating seniors’ daytime programs and weekend Grade 6 outdoor education trips, and reviewing permit fees for community groups using TDSB facilities.

If implemented, staff estimate these options could reduce the deficit to just over $4 million.

School boards are required by the province to submit a balanced budget by June 30.

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