Online shift: Remote learning to grow by 300 students, 400 teachers for public school board

·3 min read

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says a net total of 300 students will move to remote learning and 400 educators will be reassigned amid a major reorganization across the board.

A report from the public board, presented at a meeting on Monday, shows that a total of 800 students have moved to online classes and 500 students have opted for in-person learning.

The board will now need to adjust in-person and online classes to accommodate new students in new classrooms. Many teachers will be moved online, while others will be reassigned to new schools and different in-person classrooms.

The reorganization is part of a major upheaval taking place across the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), as a recent board report revealed that there are 1,756 fewer students enrolled in classes than projected. The decline in enrolment has resulted in a $15.2-million decline in funding from the province, meaning the board could face a significant financial deficit this school year.

Families in the HWDSB were prompted to decide by late October whether they wanted to switch their child from in-person to online classes or vice versa.

But the significant number of students opting to switch prompted an outcry from some families who fear the reorganization will have a harmful effect on their child’s education.

A petition circulated online last week, calling for a stop to the reorganization, has received north of 1,500 signatures.

Manny Figueiredo, the board’s director of education, said he understands parents’ concerns.

“We know this can be hard on teachers and students,” he said at Monday’s board meeting.

“It’s not in the interest of our staff to reorganize once student-teacher relationships have been established.”

Dawn Danko, trustee for Ward 7, said she wished the board didn’t have to reorganize, “but without additional funding from the Ministry of Education we simply cannot do that.”

Last week, the board reported that its financial deficit could be as much as $8.8 million by the end of the 2020-21 school year due to low student enrolment and a lack of government funding.

At a financial committee meeting Thursday evening, board administrator Stacey Zucker told trustees that the public board will not be receiving an anticipated $15.2 million in funding from the province after discovering there are 1,756 fewer students enrolled in the board than anticipated.

The enrolment numbers affect the amount of funding the board receives from the province’s Grants for Student Needs (GSN) program, which typically offers money to boards for a variety of needs including special education, professional development, language programming, and more.

Zucker also noted the board will not be receiving an anticipated $700,000 typically drawn from school rental spaces, bringing the total reduction in revenue to roughly $15.9 million.

The board has planned to surplus roughly 33 teachers and curb spending across the board in an effort to reduce its deficit by the end of the fiscal year.

Alex Johnstone, chair of the board, told trustees on Thursday they might consider putting some of the board’s reserve funds toward reducing the deficit.

Roughly $6 million of the board’s reserve funds — typically saved for “rainy day” expenses — were used this year to reduce classroom sizes in kindergarten and Grades 4 to 8 across the HWDSB.

Johnstone says the board could use some of its reserve funds again to reduce the deficit to roughly $2.8 million, though it requires approval from the trustees.

Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator