By Sue Tiffin
Seven educational assistants and three custodial staff employees from schools in Haliburton County have received layoff notices, part of a “very concerning” number of staff cuts that has resulted in more than 70 Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) staff receiving notice, according to their union.
“Both of these groups of employees are front line supports for students and a reduction in staffing levels will affect students,” said Bill Campbell, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 997, Education Workers of Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
Campbell said the union is copied on all layoff notices issued to its members. He said in Haliburton County, Archie Stouffer Elementary School and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School have both lost three permanent educational assistant (EA) positions, while Cardiff Elementary School has lost one. Three custodial staff employees have received layoff notices, one each at ASES, Stuart Baker Elementary School and J.D. Hodgson Elementary School. In total, 79 TLDSB staff members are affected by the layoffs.
“This is very concerning as it represents about 11 per cent of our total membership who have received a layoff notice,” Campbell said. “To be honest any level of layoff is concerning. With current staffing levels, schools have had to put in place a ‘Plan B’ when a staff member is ill and are not replaced. A Plan B is when some areas of the school are not cleaned or some students who normally receive EA support are not provided that support. With reduced staffing through layoffs, every day will be a plan B.”
Campbell said the reduction in educational assistant supports means that fewer students will get the support they need to attend school.
“EAs support the highest needs students in the school system,” said Campbell. “EAs keep classrooms safe as they attempt to control negative and disruptive behaviour in the classrooms. When one student is disruptive in class, no one in the class can learn. EAs also work with students in small groups of one-to-one to support them to reach their learning potential. The average annual wage of an educational assistant with TLDSB is $35,000. This salary represents the third lowest paid educational assistants in Ontario.”
Custodial staff, he said, are necessary to keep schools clean and safe.
“The custodial staff at TLDSB have been reduced through successive layoffs in 2015, 2016, 2019 and now again in 2022,” he said. “There is no flexibility in custodial staffing that would allow this employee group to maintain the cleaning standards going into the new school year. As a result, if the layoffs stand, the schools will not be as clean and possibly not as safe going forward.”
Campbell refers to a February 2022 Ministry of Education memo related to funding for the 2022-2023 school year that “states that one of the priorities of the COVID-19 Learning Recovery Fund is to ‘maintain enhanced cleaning standards’ along with hiring more EAs and other education workers.”
Within the memo, Campbell said, “the highlighted funds continue to flow from the government for an additional year and each of these funds provides funding for the CUPE positions that have been cut.”
Campbell said the number of this year’s layoffs is much higher than in an average year.
“As an example for the start of school this year [September 2021] there were no layoffs for custodial and while there were layoffs for educational assistants, the new permanent postings was well in excess of the number of reductions which resulted in more permanent hiring for the EA group,” Campbell told the Echo.
A rally calling on the board to rescind the layoffs has been planned by the union, to be held June 14 at 5 p.m. in the parking lot of Macaulay Public School in Bracebridge, across from the Muskoka Education Centre where a board meeting will take place. Campbell plans to present to the board at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed at tldsb.ca.
“We are hopeful that the rally and presentation to the TLDSB board and its trustees will draw attention to the cuts and the associated reduction in front line supports for students that need them most,” Campbell said. “In the context of a student population that has not had a ‘normal’ school year in the past three, due to COVID-19 and the learning deficit this has caused, we will make the case that the need is there along with the government funding to provide the supports to the students.”
“The school board exists for one reason, which is to provide a safe and welcoming place to receive a world class education,” he said. “Without the front line supports provided to schools to ensure a safe place for students to learn, and adequate supports to assist in that learning, the school board is failing our learners and the communities it serves.”
Additionally, Campbell said the school board has closed Yearly Outdoor Education Centre which is located in Huntsville and has been attended by TLDSB students learning curriculum-based outdoor education throughout the region over the past 40 years. Two layoff notices were issued for the outdoor education technicians that work there.
At press time, Trillium Lakelands District School Board had not responded to questions about the layoffs from the Echo.