June 11, 2013

Budget like a summer blockbuster movie, but without the happy ending says Peel board chair

Loss of nearly $10 million in funding and lowest per pupil special education funding is “shocking”

Trustees of the Peel District School Board approved an operating budget of $1.55 billion and a capital budget of $179.2 million for the 2013-14 school year.

Comparing the budget process to the production of a summer movie blockbuster, Janet McDougald, chair of the board, notes “Make no mistake—this is not a Ron Howard, happy ending kind of movie. Not this budget. We have lost nearly $10 million in provincial funding. That is shocking, but with no other sources of revenue, we have to accept this further underfunding and once again work with it.”

Adds McDougald, “Do you know what happens when there are more demands and less money? Maybe we could hope to be like the characters in the new movie ‘Now You See Me’. After all, they are magicians who can seemingly make millions of dollars appear out of mid-air. That would be handy at budget time. But sadly, not the case. Instead of hoping for a magical solution—like a provincial move to fairer funding that doesn’t put Peel in the back of the pack—we had to find our own solutions, and make some tough choices. And we did just that. Significant cuts to central departments - returning 46 teachers from central roles back to the classroom, reducing school operations, and on and on. But as we did so, we kept our focus on our goals, and priorities.”

Despite the funding reductions, the board will maintain support for key initiatives including the Vision for 21st Century Teaching and Learning and The Journey Ahead: Our Action Plan for Equitable Hiring and Promotion.

Says McDougald, “For 21st Century learning, we will in fact enhance our work to increase the role of parents as partners. As for The Journey Ahead –if we believe in bias-free hiring, and we do—we have to make sure we do everything possible to transform our hiring practices—even if the funds are limited.”

A key focus for the board moving into the next school year will be special education funding. 

Explains McDougald, “We are the absolute lowest funded board in the entire province on the high needs amount of special education.  In case you didn’t get that, let me repeat –Lowest. In. The. Province. Funded almost 50% less than our neighbour board. That is not acceptable. It was not acceptable when we first realized it several years ago. It was not acceptable when the province promised year after year to review what they also see as a flawed formula. And it is certainly not acceptable this year when they have again quietly announced that they will not review the formula. Not. Acceptable.

And the only reason I am not announcing tonight a major public campaign for this fall on this issue is—and this is the last-minute plot twist we love in movies—that last Thursday, Minister Sandals met with us and we were able to raise this issue with her in person. First of all, my appreciation—and the appreciation of this board—to the minister for showing the respect locally elected trustees deserve. She gave what we have wanted for a while—the commitment of time and attention to our issues in Peel. 

Did she write us a cheque? I wish—back to that magic movie again. But she did demonstrate a clear understanding of the issue, and a genuine appreciation for the situation we find ourselves in. Now, what we need, what the students of Peel deserve, is action.

The province must fund the high needs special education students we have in our school now—today—not the ones that were there 10 years ago. They need to use the current, correct data. If they could do that, we would go a long way to solving the fair funding gap.

That must take political will. There is no new money—so they will need to redistribute funds. And that’s hard. But so is the work we have done with our own budget.

Now, the province needs to do the same. The meeting was a great start. Minister Sandals asked Peel Board to submit our suggestion on what a fairer provincial funding model would look like. We accept that challenge and will submit our proposal as soon as possible. And then we wait – to see if the offer of change is sincere.”


Media contact:  Janet McDougald, Chair, Peel District School Board, [email protected], 905-278-1402

Reference:  Brian Woodland, Director of Communications and Community Relations Support Services, Peel District School Board, [email protected], 905-890-1010 ext. 2812

Note to media: Download the full text of Janet McDougald's budget remarks for more information.

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