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Suggested cuts at Toronto schools called 'a bloodbath'

Mr. Dion Singh's all-boys Grade 8 class at Humberwood Downs Junior-Middle Academy, part of the Toronto District School Board, is shown Jan. 17, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board is considering drastic job cuts, including laying off hundreds of education assistants and school office staff.

Education assistants would be the hardest hit group, with 430 of 493.5 full-time positions eliminated if the board accepts staff's recommendation.

The cuts were suggested in a report submitted to the school board's human resources committee, which will meet on Wednesday.

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"It's a bloodbath," said trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher, a member of the committee.

Ms. Cary-Meagher said that education assistants "fill in huge gaps" by helping teachers cope with students who have special needs, such as autism spectrum disorders.

Staff have also recommended that 134 school office workers, 39 elementary vice-principal and 10 caretaker positions be eliminated.

"Student achievement, special education and student safety are all going to suffer because of these cuts," CUPE 4400 president John Weatherup said.

The board has an annual operating budget of just under $3-billon, and is facing an $85-million projected shortfall for the next school year. The proposed staff cuts could make up about $50-million of that shortfall, and, to meet contract deadlines, will have to be decided at a special board meeting scheduled for March 28.

"These are really some painful decisions we have to make," said trustee Howard Goodman, chair of the human resources committee.

The board will tackle how to make up the remaining shortfall from other parts of the budget this spring. In recent years, trustees have opted to defer maintenance on crumbling school buildings to make ends meet.

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Since full-day kindergarten was introduced in the fall of 2010, a number of school boards, including Toronto and Peel district, have complained that the province is underfunding the program by as much as 10 per cent.

A spokesman for the education ministry, Grahame Rivers, said funding for the TDSB has increased since 2003.

"Ultimately, it is the TDSB's decision how to best allocate resources in Toronto schools," he said.

The board is poised to hire about 400 early childhood educators (ECE's) to help accommodate the expansion of the full-day kindergarten program. Starting this fall, the program will be offered in 190 TDSB schools, and educational assistants have been encouraged to become certified ECE's.

The funding of ECE salaries has been problematic. Mr. Goodman says the TDSB isn't getting enough, and that as a result, the board is losing about $10,000 per year per full-day kindergarten classroom.

Some educational assistants could be replaced by early childhood educators in kindergarten classrooms.

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Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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