Letter to Minister of Education: Reopening funding

Limestone Learning Foundation
Letter to Minister of Education: Reopening funding
Posted on 08/31/2020

The following letter was sent to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce on behalf of the Limestone District School Board on August 31, 2020.

To the Honourable Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education:

For several months now, school boards across Ontario have been working diligently to prepare for the safe reopening of our schools. As you know, the process to return students and staff to in-person learning is both complex and challenging. Navigating this process is made more difficult by constantly updated and new information just days away from the start of classes in the Limestone District School Board on September 3, 2020.

Since the Ministry of Education released its Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools on July 30, 2020, we have been inundated with questions and concerns from our families and staff about the provincial reopening plan. Trustees have several concerns with both the lack of involvement of Board staff in this process, and the availability of timely information from the government, to allow staff to respond to questions. As we shared with you in a letter dated July 24, 2020, our Board of Trustees remains concerned about the considerable costs that will be incurred by school boards that are not provided for in current funding models. Further, there may be additional costs of which we are not yet aware given the evolving and unpredictable nature of COVID-19.

We were pleased to see recent provincial investments to support additional teaching staff and improvements to ventilation in our schools; however, the amounts that Limestone will receive are far below what is required to meet some of the safety measures recommended by health experts, including those outlined in the COVID-19: Guidance for School Reopening document authored by Sick Kids in partnership with other Ontario pediatric hospitals, epidemiologists and public health physicians. We were buoyed by the August 26, 2020 announcement that will see Limestone allocated $2.5 million from the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund to support back-to-school plans. Again, most of these funds are earmarked for specific items related to staffing, transportation, remote learning, special education and mental health. We are pleased that you have acknowledged the need for flexibility for some of this funding by providing us with $1 million for “school reopening emerging issues.” However, we need further flexible funding to support some of the most critical needs such as ventilation improvements at our schools and sites. Our allocation for ventilation, for example, is $568,100 which early estimates suggest would only provide significant improvements to one or two sites. We have 55 schools across our district.

Our Board of Trustees approved a motion at a Special Board Meeting August 20, 2020 to amend the 2020-2021 budget to use our Accumulated Surplus of up to 1% of operating revenues (to a value of $2,465,397) to help us address increasing and evolving COVID-19-related expenses. Our concern is that this may be inadequate to address ongoing expenses related to the pandemic, and again, does not allow us to address safety measures such as ensuring physical distancing of two metres, further ventilation improvements, or the possible inclusion of Plexiglas barriers where distancing is not possible. Further, these reserve funds are intended for emergency and/or unexpected expenses that emerge throughout a school year. To drain our reserve fund for pandemic-related expenses leaves us vulnerable for other unknowns that often occur.

Our KFL&A region has worked incredibly hard to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities allowing us to safely reopen our schools to students and staff five days a week for in-person learning. We want to ensure that we remain best prepared to deal with the unpredictable yet inevitable obstacles that await as we continue to respond to this unprecedented pandemic. We know this is new for everyone, but there are supplementary measures that could be put in place to ensure greater student and staff safety provided boards receive more robust funding and the flexibility to use it where it is needed most. Boards and the government must work together collaboratively to ensure we are providing the best defence against COVID-19. We remain ready to work with you to do the best we can to support health and safety across our communities.

Suzanne Ruttan
Chair, Limestone District School Board of Trustees

The Limestone District School Board is situated on traditional territories of the Anishinaabe & Haudenosaunee.