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A month after announcement, boards anxiously waiting for answers on $25M provincial cut

'We're standing by and hoping that more clarity comes quicker,' says chair of Sudbury Catholic boardĀ 
Education Minister Lisa Thompson's office confirmed $25 million cuts in education funding just before Christmas. School boards say they're still waiting for answers on what the cuts will mean for their own finances. (Supplied)

About a month after they were first announced, local school boards are waiting for answers on what $25 million in cuts from the province's education budget will mean for their own finances.

Just before Christmas, it was announced that the money was being slashed after the government reviewed the Education Programs – Other (EPO) fund. 

The fund gives schools money for things like tutors and leadership programming, and extra services for indigenous and other racialized students.

Sudbury Catholic District School Board chair Michael Bellmore said he does believe there's going to be an effect on his board, but doesn't know the full extent just yet because few details have been provided by the education ministry.

“We're standing by and hoping that more clarity comes quicker,” he said.

“I'm attending our trustees' provincial conference next week, and (Education Minister Lisa Thompson) is expected to speak.

“So we'll see if she has anything to say or add to where we're at. Everybody is just kind of walking around, waiting to see what's going to happen.”

Bellmore said his board will be less impacted than some others, because they budgeted for this kind of thing. “We budgeted and planned on potentially not having any of these (grants),” he said.

He said his biggest concern is the waste of tax dollars after programs were implemented by the previous Liberals, only to be shelved by the current Progressive Conservatives.

“I would hope that the decisions that are being made are being made in the best interests of education, and not politically-motivated positions,” Bellmore said. also requested interviews with the other three local school boards on the issue. 

Two of them — the Rainbow District School Board and Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario (CSCNO) — provided only short written statements, while the third, Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario (CSPGNO), did not respond.

“It is too soon to say how any funding changes might affect Rainbow District School board,” said Rainbow board spokesperson Nicole Charette, in an email. 

“The overall impact cannot be fully assessed until Transfer Payment Agreements have been finalized.”

Lyse-Anne Papineau, director of education with CSCNO, said as with other school boards, her board is making the “necessary adjustments” in response to the recent provincial funding cuts.

“For the time being, it is still too early to determine the impact that these cuts will have on our schools,” she said in the statement. “We are continuing to offer the best French-language Catholic education to our students.”

Local Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) rep Liana Holm doesn't have any more answers than her counterparts at the school boards.

“My personal opinion was that it was a hasty decision put out right before Christmas that was very unclear, so it leaves people with lots of questions,” said Holm, first vice-president of the ETFO Rainbow local.

“You know what, looking at the grants that have been cancelled, I can't even tell you what it's going to look like for school boards … You don't know what exactly every single piece of this that has been touched. It's unclear.”

Ever since the Doug Ford Progressive Conservative government took their seats last year, the education sector has been “nervous,” she said.

“(Ford has) announced so many changes already to programs that have done so many really good things for students,” Holm said.

Changes to education already made include repealing the controversial 2015 sex ed curriculum. 

The ETFO and the Canadian Civil Liberties' Association actually took the Ford government to court, alleging the repeal is unconstitutional.

They say it puts children at risk by failing to be inclusive and meeting the needs of today's students. 

Holm said her union would like to see the programs affected by the $25 million budget cuts continued.

“We saw the growth that has happened (under the previous provincial Liberals), and we saw that the needs were being filled and students were getting what they wanted,” she said.

“Was it perfect? No. But was still a step in the right direction.”


Heidi Ulrichsen

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