COVID-19 response, surplus managment hot topics at TLDSB meeting
By Zachary Roman
On May 12, the Trillium Lakelands District School Board held its committee of the whole meeting via remote video conference, discussing matters including COVID-19, budgets, and graduation. The meeting was live streamed to the public on the board’s website.
Larry Hope, TLDSB director of education, said during the meeting that he is aware there is a degree of fatigue setting in for some parents who have found it tough to manage their own work from home responsibilities while keeping their kids engaged with online classes. “We do want to be sure that families are well supported, that students are well supported and that the load of this will not fall to our parents alone,” he said.
Hope also said he is aware that there continues to be questions and concerns about the March 13 mark deadline. “The minister of education has suggested to us that we shall do no harm because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the mark a student had going into March Break on March 13 would be the lowest possible mark that they could receive,” said Hope. “I will tell you that we are having some further discussion about that, even as we speak, because what we talked about is happening in some instances. We have some students who are disengaging and thinking, ‘well if I had a 51 or 60 or 73 on March 13 that mark can’t go down and so I don’t need to do anything else.’ We disagree with that, we believe that it is the responsibility of everyone to do the work.”
Hope said that TLDSB has established two committees to try to manage the issue moving forward. Hope also spoke about how the board is preparing to move forward with a return to school plan, whenever that may be.
“It is incumbent upon us to make sure that we are planning for that return to school, whatever it may be, as thoroughly as we possibly can. So we are working with a number of other school districts, five boards that have come together in the southwestern part of the province and one way up in northwestern Ontario,” said Hope. “The superintendents have come together over the past several weeks to begin developing a very comprehensive plan, considering all kinds of scenarios.”
The board also discussed the accumulated surplus management plan. TLDSB has historically been able to budget for various expenditures, such as special education support, using its accumulated surplus, otherwise known as reserves.
However, the board ran a deficit for the first time in 2018-19, so the Ministry of Education has requested that the board complete a deficit elimination plan.
The deficit elimination plan requires TLDSB to eliminate $1.94 million in accumulated surplus spending by 2021-22. Under the plan, the board is also required to make its expenditures equal the amount of money it receives from the ministry’s grants for student needs and partnership and priority funding to achieve a balanced budget.
This means the board has to fund fewer initiatives with their accumulated surplus for the 2020-21 school year and prioritize surplus spending on initiatives that have not found a funding source under the GSNs or PPF grants. This year, $985,000 was cut from accumulated surplus spending.
Some notable areas affected by the cuts that will need to find funding elsewhere are special education support, music/arts support, program enhancement, and funding for student success educational assistants.
Despite the cuts, the board found room to add $35,000 in funding for the Trillium Lakelands Arts Camp. Additionally, $141,000 in funding was added to the 1-to-1 technology initiative, so the board could buy the Chromebook laptops they are currently leasing in order to cut future expenditures.
In response to the accumulated surplus management plan, Haliburton County trustee Gary Brohman said that because of COVID-19 the community has gone through troubling times – and that he thinks the board should do everything in its power to put funding toward the essentials, rather than specialized areas. “This is coming from my humble point of vie w, but the greatest learning is every day in the classroom, English, math, literacy and the whole gamut of things, relationships are built there,” said Brohman. “I believe that money should go to classroom teachers.”
Tim Ellis, superintendent of business services for the TLDSB, said this year’s grants for student needs have been pushed back a number of times by the Ministry of Education due to COVID-19 but are expected to come as usual.
“We do know that they’re expected to be what they call a status quo,” said Ellis. “So not a significant amount of changes within funding amounts.”
The next committee of the whole board meeting is on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. You can listen in live on tldsb.ca.