TDSB calls on Ontario to pay for $70.1M in pandemic-related costs to prevent service cuts

TDSB calls on Ontario to pay for $70.1M in pandemic-related costs to prevent service cuts
TDSB calls on Ontario to pay for $70.1M in pandemic-related costs to prevent service cuts 22 March 2023 09:15 PM: The Toronto District School Board is asking the Ontario government to repay costs it incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it needs "adequate, stable and predictable" funding from the education ministry to avoid cuts to programs and services.

In a letter to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Wednesday, TDSB chair Rachel Chernos Lin and Director Colleen Russell-Rawlins say the board incurred $70.1 million in pandemic-related costs resulting from following COVID-19 directives from the province and Toronto Public Health.

"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," Chernos Lin and Russell-Rawlins write.

As an example, the board officials say the TDSB had to reduce class sizes to stop the spread of COVID-19. By doing so, it used $55.1 million of its own funds to pay for additional staffing costs and $15 million in other pandemic expenditures.

Chernos Lin and Russell-Rawlins also say the TDSB has an operating deficit of about $61 million in the 2023-24 school year, according to preliminary figures. This deficit is due in part to a "misalignment" between the board's commitments and the provincial funding formula that existed before the pandemic, they say.

"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," they write.

The board officials say they are also concerned that pandemic funding of $31.5 million provided by the province in each of the last two years will not continue for 2023-24. The funding allowed the TDSB to hire an additional 485 staff members, including teachers, social workers, child and youth workers, caretakers and vice-principals, it says.

"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," Chernos Lin and Russell-Rawlins write.

In addition to the $70.1 million in pandemic costs and the $31.5 million in pandemic funding, the board officials say the TDSB wants $48.6 million because it is facing a shortfall in employee benefits and sick leave costs for the 2023-24 school year.

"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," the officials write.

Grace Lee, spokesperson for Lecce, did not respond directly to the request, but said: "Ontario's government continues to fund education at the highest levels in our province's history, including for the hiring of 7,000 additional education workers to support students.

|We provided $3 billion to the TDSB this year alone, and look forward to increased investments where students need it the most, focused on reading and math skills." 

The Ontario government is scheduled to deliver its provincial budget on Thursday.

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