'I don't think we folded': TDSB defends decision to cut $67.8M from budget

The Toronto District School Board is defending its decision to reduce its budget by $67.8 million over two years in the wake of education funding cuts by the Doug Ford government.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said taking a stand against the government by refusing to administer provincial cuts would have been irresponsible. The TDSB budget that was passed last Wednesday will lead to staff reductions and changes to programs and services.

Pilkey said not passing a balanced budget would have enabled the government to dismiss the board, appoint a provincial supervisor and implement cuts as it saw fit. Under the law, the board is required to submit a proposed balanced budget to the province by the end of June.

"I don't think we folded. I think that we took a hard look at it and we decided that, even though we were not in favour of this, the alternative would have been worse," Pilkey said Tuesday.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4400, which represents education workers in Toronto, urged the board before its last meeting to "just say no" to the education cuts. In a June 19 news release, the union said passing the budget would "make students, parents, and communities pay the price for the Ford government's cuts to education."

In 2002, the TDSB refused to pass its budget in the face of cuts from the Mike Harris government. In response, the government appointed provincial supervisor Paul Christie to oversee the board.

"If history was to repeat itself, we would also have had a supervisor," she added. "The supervisor doesn't have to consult anybody. The supervisor doesn't have to pay any attention to the priorities our board has established. The supervisor gets to do whatever they want. They don't speak to trustees, they don't have to speak to parents, they don't have to speak to the community."


'In reality, we only actually cut fully two programs'

The board passed its balanced budget by a vote of 18 to 4 last week.

Among other things, the board reduced its Itinerant Music Instructors program by 25 per cent and it cut two programs completely: the International Languages integrated day program and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for elementary students. The board will charge a fee for IB at the high school level in 2020-2021. 

"Programs that were maybe offered in a limited number of schools, that could not be offered across the whole system, those were ones that we looked at," she said.

"In reality, we only actually cut fully two programs. Those aren't judgments on those programs. They were still great programs. But the issue, I think, is that we need to be able to offer things to the full system."

The board also made cuts to senior staff at central administration, student support services, outdoor education, professional development, information technology services and lunchroom supervisors. 

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

Asked about how she felt about the budget, Pilkey said: "I don't feel great. But I think that we did the right thing. I think we were very open and transparent in a way that many boards were not."

To balance the budget, trustees had to make cuts based on education ministry funding cuts of $42.1 million and a budget deficit of $25.7 million.

The board reduced its budget after a "large" process and looking at "budget drivers," Pilkey said. She said it held several public meetings and it received more than 15,000 responses to survey requests about its priorities.

It made its decisions based on public consultations, including more than 100 oral delegations and more than 250 written submissions, she said.

The board was as open and transparent as possible, she said. "We did the entire thing in public. Many boards did not do that."