School boards urged to exercise prudence on hiring decisions

SUDBURY—The Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) will be exercising prudence on hiring decisions after school boards throughout Ontario were informed by the ministry of education to exercise caution in hiring teachers this fall as there are expected to be changes made in primary class sizes.

“We received a memo from the deputy education minister, Nancy Naylor, and one that we will take heed of as it looks like there will be some financial impacts to school boards like ours,” said Norm Blaseg, director of education for the RDSB, this past Monday. 

Mr. Blaseg was referring to a request that all provincial school boards received from deputy minister Nancy Naylor last week, asking school districts to exercise caution around hiring teachers for the fall ahead of an expected change to primary-class sizes. “It is clear that there are going to be some considerations in the upcoming (provincial) budget which would impact staffing.” He pointed out the memo indicates the government is reviewing its consultations on class sizes and teacher hiring practices.

The letter says in part for boards, “to please assume a hiring freeze until more information is provided in the budget,” said Mr. Blaseg, noting the provincial budget and more information is expected to be released later this month. 

Ms. Naylor said in her memo, in part, “I am writing to you today to recommend that school boards exercise prudence in light of the upcoming Ontario budget and the recent consultation in class size and hiring practices. School boards are advised to defer the annual processes of filling vacancies for retirement and other leave related to teachers and other staff until the Minister of Education provides an update to the sector on or before March 15.”

As has been reported previously the Ontario government recently completed education consultations, which included the possibility of removing caps on class sizes for Kindergarten to primary grades.

And there are fears from those in the education sector that removing class-size caps is the first sign of further cuts to schools in an attempt by the government to trim a $14.5 billion deficit.

“I figure the cuts will come in layers,” said Mr. Blaseg. He said the board usually finds out how much they are to be funded by the province by the end of March and the ministry (of education) is being guided by the province in plans to reduce the deficit.”

“To heed her (Ms. Naylor’s) advice at this point is a good thing, within reason,” said Mr. Blaseg. “If, for instance, we have the retirement of a front-line employee we will have to provide for this staffing to be filled. But yes, we are adhering to the request from the province and waiting until March 15 for news, like the rest of the province is. We aren’t sounding the alarms yet.”

“I’m sure the province is looking to lower the current financial deficit, and that they will not leave any stone unturned,” said Mr. Blaseg. “We will remain prudent and cautious to make sure we don’t leave ourselves in a precarious position.”

Marit Stiles, Ontario NDP Education critic, said that Doug Ford has just put families on notice that deep cuts are coming to their children’s education—cuts that Ms. Stiles says should be stopped before they hurt children.

Ms. Stiles noted the government sent a memo to school boards, dated February 28, telling them not to fill vacancies until getting budget news. She says that equates to an immediate cut, as teachers retire and take sick or parental leave; and it also signals that deep cuts are coming in the spring.

“Cuts to teachers and staff in education means larger class sizes as the Conservatives cram more kids into classrooms with fewer teachers. It means children won’t be able to get one-on-one help when they need it. And it means already stressed teachers will have to do even more with even less,” said Ms. Stiles, in a release. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children won’t get the quality education they deserve as the Conservatives take their cutting agenda out on our children.”