Torstar News Service The cost of back-to-school supplies can add up fast, especially for families struggling to make ends meet.

Hundreds of high school teachers could be laid off as the Toronto public board grapples with a $55-million deficit, according to a staffing report that also recommends cuts to secretaries and vice-principals.

Last year, the Toronto District School Board axed 200 secondary teaching positions because of a drop in enrollment, and this year is recommending a loss of 248.

“It’s very frustrating to continually make cuts — it never ends,” said Etobicoke Trustee Chris Glover. “At some point, trustees are going to throw up their hands.”

“High schools are taking a huge hit,” added another trustee, from teachers to secretaries to hall monitors.

“The clerical staff is mostly at high schools because that’s where enrollment is going down. In an 800-student high school, you could have four or five secretaries” to manage all the teens.

While overall enrollment is on the rise in the board — Canada’s largest, and the seventh biggest in North America — it is fuelled by a boom in the elementary grades and has yet to filter up.

Right now, the board has about 84,446 secondary students and 5,575 high school teachers.

“Losing those teachers — the fewer adults you have in the building, the less opportunity you have to engage kids,” said Laurie Green, a mother of four who has a son at Etobicoke Collegiate.

Even if enrollment is down, losing staff “always has an impact on what programs school can offer. They scramble around to find people to offer core subjects” but often the classes teachers feel the most passionate about can be lost.

Indeed, the report notes that by this fall, about half of all Toronto high schools will have less than 800 students, and 40 per cent less will have fewer than 500.

“Schools that have smaller student populations will have challenges offering a full breadth of programs,” it notes.

The decline in enrollment is not believed to have much, if anything, to do with the labour turmoil in the province’s public high schools and the resulting loss of extracurricular activities, which teachers are just starting to return to.

As Toronto board staff put together a budget for the 2103-14 school year, staffing is one of the first things trustees will vote on, as layoff notices need to be sent out early as required under collective agreements.

The $55-million deficit is about half of what it was last year, when the $109-million shortfall was the biggest it has ever faced.

To balance the books then, trustees made $50.8 million in staffing cuts, including 430 education assistants, 134 school secretaries, 17 vice-principals, 200 high school teachers, 10 caretakers and six hall safety monitors. It also slashed senior administration by 10 per cent.

Many of the education assistants were offered an opportunity to retrain as early childhood educators to work in full-day kindergarten classrooms. Roughly one-third — or 150 — have done so.

For this year, along with cuts to teachers and secretaries, the board is also looking to also chop a number of school librarians and guidance counsellors — mainly in elementary schools — as well as music teachers who travel from school-to-school.

The staffing cuts would eliminate about $27 million, or half of the deficit.

Glover blames full-day kindergarten for much of the board’s financial woes, noting the government is not fully funding staff or classrooms for the new program.

“It leaves us with an enormous shortfall each year,” he said.

While the province has said the board needs to close schools and sell off land, Glover said the board has shut down 50 schools in the past 15 years, and sold off 40 properties.

Toronto student Trustee Hirad Zafari said the board will have to make sure the loss of staff doesn’t cause problems in the city’s high schools.

“I hope that the board is able to deal with those budget cuts and lower enrolment,” he said.

Zafari also hopes the enrolment drop has nothing to do with the instability in public high schools and the loss of extracurricular activities.

A boost in the number of elementary teachers, mostly because of full-day kindergarten, going from the current 8,008 to 8,139.

A cut of 25 full-time elementary school librarians, but with assurances that each school will have at least a half-time one.

The loss of 20 full-time guidance positions in elementary, and 46.5 in high schools. Green said she’s opposed to any such cuts given the level of “awareness of mental health issues” among youth.

Other cuts: six elementary vice-principals, and eight secondary, 26 school secretaries, six hall safety monitors (high school).

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