Ken Lister: «Cuts in Education are short sighted»

di Mariella Policheni del May 29, 2019

Pubblichiamo di seguito la nostra intervista a Ken Lister riguardo la
riforma del settore dell’Istruzione in Ontario.

Years ago before joining the Ministry of Children and Youth Services / Community and Social Services you worked at the Ministry of Health. How do you consider the cancellation of the Ford government of so many programs for kids?
«The Ontario Government has made many changes in its first year in o.ce. Having promised in the election they could reduce spending without any job losses, they are now making many cuts in Education which are short sighted».

You are also a former trustee: what do you think of the reform of the school system in Ontario? The government continues to say that teachers will not be fired while board members have already announced the dismissal of a number of them. What is your opinion about this?
«Having been an elementary teacher, I know the hard work, long hours, and stressful demands of teaching. If the Ford Government was to propose a pay cut for teachers, they would have some support and some opposition. But they aren’t proposing this at all. Instead, they are increasing class sizes in high schools, and reducing support sta. in elementary schools. Even amongst conservatives, there is virtually no support for this. This is a foolish strategy».

Last month measures include that the average size of a high school class will rise to 28 from 22. You have a Degree in Education and you worked as an elementary teacher: how do you repute this decision?
«Cutting teachers will not improve student achievement or ’build resiliency’. It will harm student learning and achievement, and means less options for students. The home school in my area for example is Georges Vanier Secondary School. At Georges Vanier, there are seven classes eliminated this year ranging from Computer Science to French. All are technically ’Options’. A year from now, likely another seven classes will be eliminated as these cuts are being phased in over four years. Perhaps History or Skilled Trades or Music will be cut next».

The autism community is stressed and angry with Ford government for the program cuts. Do you think parents are right?
«Parents of children with autism have been abandoned by the government. Parents pay between $20,000 to $80,000 per year on therapy for their children. This is not sustainable for most families and causes untold family stress, marital challenges, and leaves children without the support they need. The previous Liberal government had left a program that had some parents, including myself, waiting for more than 2 years on a waiting list with nothing. Zero dollars, zero support. The new Conservative Minister decided to make the program worse by freezing the waiting list, then lying about if it was frozen. She still insists it is not frozen, yet nobody has been taken o. the waiting list. Therapists are being laid o. at centres, and children with the highest needs who were at those centres full time with behavioural issues requiring one to one will soon be moving to a school near you. With the exact same funding any other student receives. And for myself? Well the government promised to let parents apply for new funding effective April 1 2019. We are now at the end of May, and there is no application form available, or timeline for how long it will take to be processed. Nor do we know how much we would receive».

Toronto District School Board has a loss of $67 million – $25.7 million is an annual structural shortfall and $42 million in net loss of funding from the Ontario government.
«The TDSB is facing a $67 million deficit this year due to the cuts. I believe Transportation can generate about $9 million in savings for the TDSB for the 2020/21 school year and a further $9 million for the TCDSB. Legacy can also save about $1 million and is something I fought to end while I was a Trustee at the TDSB. Some TDSB schools in Etobicoke and Scarborough received extra funding for a Theatre Technician, some had a Labratory Assistant or extra o.ce sta., while 99% of other schools did not have any of these. This is inequitable and can be done quickly. But that still leaves a $57 million hole. And to cut $57 million will cause much hardship for students».

The International Languages program seems to be at risk...
«One of the proposed cuts is by ending the International Languages Saturday programs. This is a program where students can learn their culture and heritage language of Italian, Portuguese, Greek, or many other languages. It enables students to connect to their grandparents as well who may not speak English very well or other family members. I would never support this cut».

What TDSB should do in your opinion? Should sell its unused schools?
«Many Conservative MPPs are telling their constituents that school boards need to close schools that are underutilized, but the Ministry of Education stated last week that the provincial moratorium prevent any school closing in Ontario will continue so boards are not allowed to do this. Before this moratorium began by the previous Liberal government, boards had to take almost a year to consult with the a.ected community, and then had to spend another 6 months trying to sell the school to another level of government or a not for profit before being allowed to sell to a developer. This meant that it takes years to actually close and sell a school. Nonetheless, over the past four years, the TDSB did close and sell quite a few schools in that time and was prepared to continue to do so if allowed. But if the province won’t allow any school closures in Ontario, obviously no boards will find savings this way. And for any board that did close a school in the past, I should note it only generated an average of $700,000 in savings as you don’t lose any teachers because there are provincial rules for class sizes that must be adhered to. And their salaries are negotiated by the Government of Ontario so school boards cannot reduce this».

What will happen now to Empowered Kids Ontario (EKO) Program?
«I don’t know about this and can’t comment on the program or the implications for it».

It is said that kids are our future: what future is the government preparing for these kids?
«Cutting teachers will not improve student achievement or ’build resiliency’. It will harm student learning and achievement, and means less options for students. The Ontario Government could find many savings by eliminating the increase in MPP housing allowances it just passed, and by cancelling the millions being spent on advertising and legal challenges ».

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