This week, more than three dozen elementary and secondary-school teachers at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) learned they are out of job.
As a result of expected cuts to education funding, the school board declared 37.5 positions “redundant,” which means those teachers have lost their jobs.
Another 54 positions were declared surplus; people in those positions still have a job but will have to relocate to another school and might have to take on a different role within the board.
“We’re greatly concerned as a board,” said long-time SMCDSB trustee Francis Smith, who represents Orillia. “Our numbers don’t add up to what the ministry says. They say there will be no lost jobs. I can’t see that.”
Pauline Stevenson, the communications manager for the board, said the board has not yet received notification of how much funding it will receive for the next school year; that information is expected within a few weeks.
However, the board is obligated, through its collective agreement, to notify teachers of their status by April 15.
“We really don’t know what programs, services and supports that we’re going to be able to fund for 2019-2020 (until funding details are provided), so we made our plan very cautiously," said Stevenson.
There is hope the board will be able to re-hire some of those teachers.
“Once the government releases 2019-2020 funding details for school boards and we complete our own budget processes, we sincerely hope that we are in a position to recall as many of these employees as possible,” said Brian Beal, the SMCDSB’s director of education.
Kent MacDonald, the president of the Simcoe Muskoka Elementary Catholic Teachers Association, said the cuts “are pretty devastating.”
While there are often a number of “surplus” positions each year, it’s been almost a decade since any teachers have lost their jobs, he said.
The teacher-turned-union representative said many of the teachers losing their jobs are young people with families.
“It’s the worst-case scenario,” he lamented.
He lauded the strong working relationship the union has with the school board, but said Doug Ford’s government is “not an education-friendly government.”
However, Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, in a statement provided to OrilliaMatters when asked for comment on this issue, noted the government is providing $1.6 billion in “attrition protection to ensure school boards, including the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, are prepared to best manage these changes.”
She also reiterated something Premier Doug Ford has said repeatedly: “As has been said since the beginning, not one teacher will lose their job as a result of the changes in class sizes,” said Dunlop.
Smith disagreed. He said the impact of larger class sizes on their board, which has about 20,000 students, will mean fewer teachers.
He also predicted the increase in average class size will put special education programs and tech programs “in jeopardy - especially in smaller high schools.”
MacDonald said he fears things could get worse.
“I am worried,” he said, noting many teachers are “hanging by a thread” as they deal with increasing violence in the classrooms, rampant mental-health issues amid worry about the impact of cuts to autism funding and other supports.
“I am trying to be optimistic, but I know the (government’s) plan is to attack the deficit and debt and I know health-care and education represent the two biggest budgets.”
Smith said he and other trustees met with MPPs from Simcoe County and Muskoka. But he believes the die has already been cast and Ford has already made up his mind.
"There is a good education system in Ontario and it’s working well. (These cuts) are going to have quite a negative impact on people - especially those with special needs," Smith said.
He said he believes labour unrest is likely on the horizon.
“The real problem will be the first of September,” predicted Smith. “The teachers union won’t take this lying down. They are well-heeled and I think they will put up quite a fight.”