Toronto's public school board has passed a budget that stays away from cuts to your kids' programs.
Trustees unanimously approved the $3-billion spending plan Wednesday night at a meeting that wrapped up a little after midnight.
The budget is all but balanced, with $12.4-million in savings to be found over the course of the 2014-15 school year, something trustees and staff say is do-able. The deficit is down from current year's $55-million.
Some 165 teaching jobs will disappear from high schools this fall as enrolment drops. The board says those will be handled by attrition. Meanwhile, some 923 positions will be added at the elementary level--for early childhood educators, teachers and lunchroom supervisors. The board says most of those positions are tied to the roll-out of full-day kindergarten.
Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos calls the new financial blueprint "a watershed moment for the TDSB", one that heralds the promise of budgets where the board will focus on how to spend money, not on how to cut it.
But he stresses "this it all contingent on the province not moving the goalposts in terms of the funding".
Trustees agreed on the budget months ahead of schedule and before a guaranteed funding scheme from the province.
Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher says if the government tweaks the payout formula, the board will have to find places to cut.
"And at that time, it will be abundantly clear...who is responsible for any amount beyond 12.4-million and why it is happening."
Many trustees expressed concern about the board's capital funding plan and the less than tip-top condition some schools are in. Board staff also revealed December's ice storm caused an estimated $1.7-million in damage to their facilities, but the true cost won't be known until all the snow melts.
Though trustees sniped at each other for speaking out of turn in the at-capacity board room, Toronto police officers called in to keep the peace stayed pacing out of ear shot down the hall.
The officers were on site at the request of Board Chair Chris Bolton after recent allegations of bullying and intimidation between trustees and staff members.
Tempers did flare in the people who had packed the boardroom and overflow spaces to hear debate on a task force meant to improve academic achievement among Somali youth. Trustees, seemingly unclear on what they were deciding, voted to send a committee's recommendation to board staff without any debate and then move into a private meeting.
Dozens of members of the Somali community, mostly women, who had waited for as long as six hours to hear the debate became enraged as they were asked to leave the meeting room.
They shouted "shame" and "no" at trustees from the hall.
Many opposed the creation of the task force, saying it singles out and discriminates against Somali youth and that the TDSB should be helping all of its students succeed. Others took issue with a lack of community consultation in the task force's process.
The meeting ended before trustees could tackle a debate around nudity at Toronto's Pride parade.
Trustees Sam Sotiropoulos and John Hastings want to ask the city to clarify whether police will be enforcing laws outlawing public nudity along the route in June.
Sotiropoulos says the issue matters since the board has a float in the parade and promotes it as a family-friendly event. "I have difficulty signing off on something that is perhaps not in the best interest of children", he told reporters before the meeting.
Sotiropoulos called any suggestion that his motion was a sign of homophobia "nonsense" and "slanderous".
The motion will likely be considered at the next board's next meeting April 9.