April 24, 2019
Attention: The Honourable Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education:
On behalf of the Near North District School Board we are writing to express our disappointment with the proposed changes that form part of Ontario’s new vision of “Education that Works for You”. As provincial education partners, we recognize the government’s commitment to fiscal responsibility. We also know that Ontario’s education system is recognized globally. We want to work collaboratively to both improve and maintain the high quality of education in this province.
We, as a Board of Trustees, are responsible to our community, students, parents and staff for ensuring the provision of quality education in all of our schools. As a Northern board with a mix of urban and rural communities the proposed changes present us with challenges in continuing to meet our mandate “To educate learners to their fullest potential in preparation for life-long learning”.
Specifically, we are concerned about the long and short-term impact of the proposed changes to student achievement and well-being.
Increase in Class Size
The proposed increase in class sizes will result in a reduction of teaching positions, thereby limiting the ability of students to have needed one-on-one interactions with teachers. In addition, as a Northern Board with a number of smaller rural schools, meeting the required class size requirements is challenging as the student population is not always available.
One of the significant concerns for our Board is the ability to offer courses and specialized programming with the reduction in staffing. With a smaller population base, this combination of increased class size and reduction of staffing positions will significantly limit the number of elective and specialized programming available. This will effectively put our students at a disadvantage when compared to their Southern Ontario counterparts. In order to ensure that Northern Ontario remains economically viable our future employees and citizens must have access to quality education.
Reduction in Staffing
The required reduction in full-time teaching positions due to increased class sizes and elimination of program specific grants will significantly impact students and organizational function. While the loss of teaching positions due to increased class sizes will be eligible for financial assistance through the “Attrition Protection”, there are a significant number of other key positions not protected in this regard, which will also be reduced including school support staff and educational assistants.
These positions are an integral component of our education system and enable the creation of safe and inclusive learning spaces that support our most vulnerable students. The Near North District School Board is proud of the steps we have taken towards creating such an environment. However, it will be difficult to continue our work and growth in this area without the knowledge, expertise and commitment of our qualified and trained staff.
As you are aware, recruitment and retention of qualified and talented individuals can be difficult in Northern Ontario due to demographics and population challenges. We anticipate that the replacement of key positions with the required skills will be extremely difficult.
As a Board we strive to ensure that all of our students have equitable access to required programs and resources. In addition, we recognize that our students are individuals with unique needs and challenges that vary across our district. Like many of our counterparts, we already offer e-learning courses, but know that in many areas of our school board students are unable to access reliable internet service and/or transportation to an accessible location. The e-learning environment is not appropriate for all students and subject matter.
Several funding cuts have been announced including the reduction in the secondary programming amount in the Pupil Foundation Grant, the Cost Adjustment Allocation and the Human Resource Transition Supplement. Reductions in funding result in the loss of employees who contribute every day to student achievement.
We are pleased to see that the government continues to invite consultation and hope it seriously considers input from school boards. We ask that you focus on students and the needs and concerns outlined and reconsider the changes to class sizes and funding that will impact both the programs we can offer to students and the number of employees in our system. The proposed staffing and funding changes will require adjustments to programming, portfolios and students’ supports, which will have far-reaching and long-term impact on our students and therefore the economics of our communities.
We look forward to continued dialogue with you regarding this matter. Thank you for your time and consideration in reviewing our concerns.
Chairperson, Near North District School Board
Cc. The Honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
The Honourable Vic Fedeli, Minister of Finance, MPP Nipissing
Norm Miller, MPP Parry Sound-Muskoka