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At the Toronto District School Board, our mission is to enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and well-being and to acquire the knowledge, skills and values they need to become responsible, contributing members of a democratic and sustainable society. We value each and every student’s interests, strengths, passions, identities and needs and are committed to providing educational opportunities that promote and nurture these areas. This has been a commitment for many years, dating back to before amalgamation of the seven individual school boards that formed the Toronto District School Board in 1998.
One way in which school boards provided students with focussed opportunities in particular subject areas was to establish specialized schools and programs – for example, Arts-based programs and schools. When such schools and programs were created, schools boards determined funding and established criteria for admission. When the seven individual school boards amalgamated, many of these specialized programs and schools remained, as they were providing students with incredible opportunities and continue to do so today. The Toronto District School Board is proud to have some of the most dynamic and sought-after schools and programs.
The funding and admission requirements for specialized schools and programs, as well as the location of these opportunities across the TDSB have not been consistent, as most were established prior to amalgamation and the existing practices from individual school boards simply continued.
As a school board, we are committed to ensuring equitable educational access, experiences, and opportunities for all students in all schools. What this means is that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to examine existing funding and practices and make changes where necessary to ensure access for all.
In January 2018, the Toronto District School Board reaffirmed its commitment to specialized schools, including Arts schools in the Director’s Response to the Enhancing Equity Task Force Report. The Board continues to reaffirm this commitment.
Work related to improving access to schools and programs and the specific recommendations around admissions to specialized schools is outlined within the TDSB’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan and Action Plans. For example:
At the same time, the Board is reviewing its secondary schools. A Secondary Program Review is currently underway to ensure all students have equitable access to programs and opportunities, as close to home as possible. In all of this work, there are no plans to eliminate specialized schools or specialized programs within schools.
In June 2019, The Board had to make a number of difficult decisions to address the board’s $67.8 million funding shortfall and balance the budget. One of these difficult decisions was to reduce the TDSB’s overall school budget allocation by $2.5 million (approximately 5%).
To achieve the 5% reduction to the TDSB’s overall school budget allocation, the following changes were made:
With the exception of small schools with an enrolment of fewer than 300 students, all school budgets were reduced. The budget process included a number of opportunities for consultation, including public delegations, written submissions and an online feedback survey.
Part of the budget process included a review of how school budgets are allocated to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources across all TDSB schools. While we have always attempted to fund our schools in an equitable manner, historically, schools across the TDSB have received varying levels of funding depending on the presence of specialized programs and the established budget originally created by individual boards before amalgamation in 1998. Given the magnitude of the 2019 budget shortfall, it was necessary to eliminate the specialized school/program supplement in order to balance the budget.
It is important to note that schools that previously received a specialized school/program supplement of $20,000 or more did not experience the per pupil enrolment reduction for the 2019-20 school year. Similarly, schools continue to have access to the surplus amounts that they carryover year-to-year and these amounts have not be reduced. As always, schools have flexibility when it comes to administering their school budgets. Schools may adjust their existing budgets to target funding where they believe it is needed and in accordance with their School Improvement Plans.
As part of the difficult budget year in 2019, TDSB trustees approved a number of reductions to staff and changes to program/service delivery, including a reduction in the allocation of Itinerant Music Instructors (IMIs).
The budget review of the IMI program and school allocations of IMI hours showed that some schools had a significant amount of IMI support while others had none. Again, some of this distribution of hours was based on historical practices and allocations that were carried over from individual school board practices pre-amalgamation.
The budget reduction in the allocation of IMIs was an opportunity for the Board to review existing allocations and ensure a more equitable distribution for 2019-20. Those schools that had a disproportionately high allocation of IMI hours in past years experienced a reduction. At the same time, schools that previously did not benefit from the support of IMIs were provided with hours. We were able to expand and open 17 new IMI enrichment programs for the 2019-20 school year, which is positively impacting more than 1,200 additional students. This amounts to a total of 1,600 new IMI hours at these 17 new schools over the course of this school year.
It is important to note that most school boards do not offer IMIs support for schools at all. We are proud of our financial commitment and capability to continue funding the IMI program even with a smaller budgetary allotment. In the future, should funding for IMIs be restored and/or increased at the TDSB, hours would continue to be distributed in an equitable way across the system to ensure that as many schools and students as possible would benefit from this supplemental program.