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School board passes budget, cuts 38 jobs

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The Rainy River District School Board has a balanced budget for 2019-2020, but it comes with a hefty human price tag.

In a press release from the board released last Wednesday, the RRDSB said it would be eliminating 37.73 FTE (full-time equivalency) of staff due to changes in the education budget from the provincial government, as well as a decline in student enrollment.

Overall the board is operating with a budget of $53.3-million for the 2019-2020 school year, nearly $3-million smaller than the budget for last year—a five percent decrease.

One direct impact on staffing numbers provided by the RRDSB was the loss of Local Priority Funding, which provided $235-million in funding across the province to address “a range of priorities including more special education staffing . . . 'at-risk' students and adult education,” according to the previous Ontario government.

In the 2019-2020 budget released by the board, the elimination of the funding, which provided $478,000 in the 2018-2019 school year, led to the loss of 11.56 FTE positions.

A decline in the projected number of students enrolling in schools across the RRDSB also means the board receives less money from the government.

According to the budget, 20.2 FTE of positions have been cut in elementary and secondary teachers, with the remaining FTE losses spread across education assistants, early childhood educators, library staff, office staff, coordinators and consultants, administration and operations and management workers. The lone department to receive an increase is transportation, which will gain a .5 increase from 2.0 to 2.5 FTE.

The press release also noted that the reduction in staff will lead to a reduction in the number of elective courses available to students, though the board stressed it is “working to maintain as many elective courses and specialized programming at the secondary level” as possible. The board has also said that despite the decrease in funding, it will continue to support student mental health and special education, as well as Indigenous Education, field trips and extra-curricular transportation.

The board will also continue to support the Speech Language program, Reading Recovery program and the new TechWays Program.

Part of the funding changes announced by the Ontario government included a new “Attrition Protection Allocation," designed to provide "a top-up for school boards where the change in funded teachers exceeds the actual attrition and other voluntary leaves,” according to a release from the Ontario government.

When reached for a comment on the RRDSB's press release, Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford noted that his government is working to protect teachers while also working to address the province's deficit.

“Our government has been clear about our commitment to protecting what matters most and delivering an education system that puts student achievement at the centre of everything we do,” Rickford said in an emailed statement.

“Although issuing layoff notices is an annual process for school boards at this time of year, we have provided boards with $1.6-billion in funding for teacher job protection. We stand by our commitment that over the next four years, not a single teacher will involuntarily lose their job as a result of proposed changes to class sizes and E-learning.”

However, while the 2019-2020 budget acknowledges that funding is available, the public school board here was unable to qualify for any money from the attrition protection.

The RRDSB noted that the protection funding is available to schools that cannot achieve the class size changes mandated by the government without retirements or unpaid leaves, but that the funding does not apply to decreases in teaching staff due to a decline in enrollment. It also did not apply to the loss of Local Priority Funding program.

In the press release, RRDSB board chair Raymond Roy thanked those committees, schools and members of the public who were asked to provide input on the budget.

“This budget focuses on programming, supports system wide and local priorities, is in alignment with the Board's Multi-Year Strategic Plan and reflects input from a wide variety of stakeholders,” Roy said.

“We appreciate all of the input received throughout the budget process and the work put into developing a budget which clearly puts students first.”

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