Ottawa public board aims for status quo despite Ontario cuts – CBC.ca

Ottawa public board aims for \status quo\ despite Ontario cuts - CBC.ca
Larger class sizes will mean cutting 1,800 courses in Ottawas public high schools, says report
Staff at Ottawa's public school board are recommending a budget for 2019-2020 that will try to balance out the effects of the Ontario government's changes to school funding.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) staff will present their budget recommendations to trustees tonight.

"We're trying to have, as much as possible, a status quo approach for 2019-2020. But the report does identify that there are still significant funding cuts to come," said Mike Carson, chief financial officer for the OCDSB.

The board will look to eliminate 20 full-time equivalent teaching positions from secondary schools because the province cut "program enhancement funding."

That may mean some courses are only offered in one semester or create other scheduling challenges, he said.

The province is increasing the average high school class size from 22 to 28 students, providing funding to allow for teachers to leave their positions through attrition.

However, Carson said that funding is not enough for the Ottawa board, which is also bound by the class sizes stipulated in its collective agreements.

Carson said some teaching positions have been added for the coming school year because of increased enrolment and changing needs.

The province is also eliminating the local priorities funding budget this year, which funds 87 full-time equivalent teaching and support positions.

While this OCDSB budget doesn't eliminate those positions, there may be more drastic changes next year, Carson said.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the board approved sending feedback to the province about the class size increases. 

The full implementation of the increase in class sizes over four years will lead to a reduction of 300 secondary school teaching positions and the elimination of 1,800 classes, according to a report from the OCDSB advocacy strategy committee.

The report said the province should exempt technology and specialty courses from the new class size average because they may require smaller class sizes due to lack of equipment or for safety reasons.

The report also said administrators may have difficulty offering courses such as advanced physics or chemistry, which have low enrolment despite being post-secondary prerequisites.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

Thousands of teachers, students and unions protest various education cuts at Queen's Park earlier this spring. Jack Boland / Postmedia

Plans to increase high school class sizes will force Ottawa’s largest school board to cut 1,800 classes and compromise the quality of education, warn trustees.

The class-size increases proposed by the provincial government will have “significant detrimental impacts” on  programs offered at high schools run by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, says a report passed unanimously by the board Tuesday night.

The province plans to increase high school classes from an average of 22 to 28 students over the next four years.

At the Ottawa public board, 300 fewer teachers would be required, said the report. That equates to a loss of 1,800 sections or classes that will no longer be available to secondary students.

The report also raises concerns about provincial plans for mandatory e-learning courses in high school and warns that provincial funding reductions in Grades 4 to 8 could lead to unacceptably large classes in some schools.

Cutting the number of high school classes is problematic because students deserve a variety of options, said trustee Donna Blackburn in an interview.

Some students may want to pursue a trade, while others are passionate about photography, graphic arts or the school band, she said.

Blackburn faced personal struggles in high school herself but stuck it out because she wanted to play on school teams, she said.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson has said students must do their share as the Progressive Conservative government reduces spending to trim the deficit.

Some high schools in southern Ontario have already cut the number of courses they plan to offer next year. Hundreds of teachers across Ontario have been given redundancy notices and fear for their jobs, although Thompson says no teacher will lose a job as a result of larger classes.

The job cuts attributable to larger class sizes are supposed to be made through attrition as teachers resign or leave voluntarily.

The Ottawa public board will be cushioned from the immediate impact of larger class sizes. In fact, the board expects it will have slightly more teachers in 2019-20, mainly because enrolment is increasing.

In any case, the local contract between the board and its high school teachers prevents raising class sizes to an average of 28. The contract requires staffing based on an average class size of 22, and also sets a maximum number of students per class by program.

Contracts for the province’s education workers expire at the end of August. Negotiations have begun between the province’s school boards and the union representing high school teachers for a new central agreement. Local agreements are negotiated after that.

If average class sizes of 28 are implemented in Ottawa high schools, administrators will face hard choices, says the OCDSB report.

Some classes, such as hands-on trade and technology courses, can’t increase to 28 students because there isn’t enough equipment or it wouldn’t be safe, said the report. Upper-year physics and chemistry courses now commonly run with fewer than 20 in a class, but students need them as prerequisites for university programs.

“School administrators will have to make difficult choices as to whether and how often these courses can be offered, particularly in smaller secondary schools where it is already challenging to offer a full complement of compulsory courses every year,” the report said.

Trustees added a warning to the report saying that some students may have to take a fifth year of high school in order to get their prerequisites.

Critics, including some high school students who have staged protests, say they fear that arts and other specialty courses will be cut, and the size of mainstream academic classes will balloon to more than 40.

The province also plans to increase class sizes in Grades 4 to 8 by about one student to an average of 24.5. At the Ottawa public board, that means cutting about 10 teaching positions, the report said.

The reduced funding will “likely result in situations of unacceptably large classes in some schools, requiring funding to be redirected from other needs in order to mitigate large class sizes,” said the report.

The board’s flexibility is already limited because of a provincial moratorium on school closures imposed by the former Liberal government.

At some under-enrolled schools, class sizes are small, the report noted. Keeping under-enrolled schools open has forced the board to increase the number of split-grade classes and has increased the incidence of overly-large and overly small classes across the district, said the report.

The report also urged the provincial education ministry to consider the composition of classes, not just their average size. Some classes have higher numbers of students with special needs or newcomers learning English, for example.

Boards should be encouraged to have flexible class size strategies that take composition into account, said the report.

The report is also critical of the province’s plan to require high school students to take four of their 30 courses  online.

Students with limited access to the internet or digital technology, including those in rural areas and from low socio-economic backgrounds, will “face significant barriers,” said the report.

E-learning can be a good option if “school districts are completely engaged in the development and delivery of the model,” the report said.

Although no details have been released, the province says it plans a centrally delivered system of e-courses with an average class size of 35.

Montsion defence claims unacceptable state negligence as trial resumes with charter motion to dismiss all charges 

She has to rebuild her whole life: $19 million lawsuit filed on behalf of woman who lost legs in OC Transpo crash

Bus safety a priority, transport minister Garneau says, as glacial pace of Transport Canada testing revealed

Hotel addition cant be a Disneyland interpretation of Chateau Laurier, design review chair says