TCDSB: the structural deficit stands at $60 million, and they laugh

TORONTO – The Corriere Canadese has been receiving a stream of letters from the public regarding the sad state of affairs in the Education system. Some come from disappointed parents, others from organizations (“stakeholders”) dismayed, and even distraught, that “the system seems to have lost its way”. 

Whom to blame? The Minister of Education (Stephen Lecce) is responsible for curriculum, collection of taxes, distribution of funding, qualifying teachers, salaries, benefits and “big ticket” items. Local Boards (Public or Catholic), subject to their Constitutional obligations, allocate funds according to local priorities and monitor the effectiveness of those applications. Generally speaking, school boards are required to stay within their financial limits and are not authorized to run a deficit – without Ministry approval.

Whether Public or Catholic, the funds are predetermined – subject to specific exceptions -by the Average Daily Enrollment (ADE). These allocations are identified as Grants for Student Needs (GSN). There are other funds targeting particular programs and capital projects that could add as much as 20% to that GSN.

For 2023-24, the Ministry of Education allocated a total base GSN of $27,084,040,054 to all Boards of Education for the 2,038,183 students they expected serve. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) received $1,124,662,425 – 4.5% of the provincial total – based on an ADE projected to be 83,026 students.

Since Director Brendan Browne took over the reins of the TCDSB, the ADE has slipped yearly from 89,923. The ADE is the life-blood of every school board. It is a significant factor in determining courses offered, taught and pupil-to-teacher ratios.

Ultimately, aligning the projected ASN revenues to expenditures for ADE speaks to the administrative competence of the board and its ability to meet its vision statement goals. In 2019-20, TCDSB had GSN revenues of $1,076,917,848 for 89,923 students. In 2023-24, it projected 83,026 ADE (6,887 fewer students) but demanded $33,887,006 more, simply. Because the rate per ADE had increased.

In December of 2023, TCDSB revealed that it had wiped out a $100 million surplus in its reserve fund and replaced it with a $48 million interim deficit. Last Wednesday, March 20, 2024, the Corporate Services Committee learned that, in fact, the in-year deficit now stands at $58 million. Moreover, for 2023-24, it will have a “structural deficit” (consented to by the Ministry?) of $60 million.

Judging by the jocular repartee between the Director (CEO) and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) as they presented to trustees, there is “no problem” – the Ministry appears well aware of everything, i.e. the causes: Sick Leave (just the unfunded portion), School operations (closure moratorium) and statutory benefits.

However, they acknowledge on-going pressures for [unfunded] salary increases, cynical trustees around the Golden Horseshoe tell the Corriere that this is an issue of “executive compensation” (payment for Superintendent level staff). Their advance team on this is the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA), headed by Pat Daly, a friend and former colleague of Brendan Browne.

Not everyone is happy about the directions being pursued by TCDSB. A forensic researcher point out to the Corriere that she had sent a “warning letter” to the board that what seems to be the star of a demolition process of Regina Mundi E.S. in the ward of trustee Rizzo may be both unethical and illegal because no plans or permits as of the end of February had been issued.

Additionally, the organization REAL is condemning the absence of commitment to Constitutional obligations in providing a Catholic specific environment consistent with the Magisterium.

Finally, for now, the TDSB justifies it plans for reconstruction at St. Jerome E.S. on the premise that development in the Downsview area will see an influx of 110,000 new residents over the next thirty (30) years. Based on the current provincial breakdowns, about 22% of them could be Catholic. But the fertility rate among Canadian women of child-bearing age is only 1.3 and one needs a rate of 2.1 for replacement without resorting to immigration.

On that score, close to 50% of recent immigrants are abandoning Canada and returning to their country of origin. The government of Canada has started to cutback on Residency permits as well as on International VISA students.

A decision-making process founded on a never-ending stream of bodies with money attached deserves to be re-examined. Bishop Leo, Minister Lecce, where oh where are you?

The Director (CEO) and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the TCDSB laugh and joke as they talk about the tens of millions of dollars deficit of the School Board they direct (screenshot from the video of the March 20 meeting at the TCDSB)