By Renée Rodgers
The local Catholic school board will be cutting 11 employee positions but teachers’ jobs are safe for the moment.
The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board announced at a meeting June 14 it will be reducing the number of special education assistant positions by 10 and not re-hiring one academic supervisory officer.
Jody DiRocco, director of education for the board, said it’s hard to tell if the reduction in positions will translate into layoffs.
“At this point, what we know is there will be 10 fewer positions in the board,” he said. “It’s difficult to say if it will affect 10 people, given if there is attrition or retirements.”
The news comes after the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board announced it would lay off 16 teachers before the upcoming school year. Enrollment to that board’s schools has been declining for the past decade.
Kerry Donnell, the board’s spokesperson, said a projected loss of about 400 secondary school students in the upcoming school year means the extra teaching staff won’t be necessary.
Local Catholic schools have also been experiencing a decline in enrollment. Tom Dall, chair of the Catholic school board, said the board projects it will lose about 250 secondary school students in the upcoming school year.
The reduction of staff positions is due to declining enrollment, as well as other factors, DiRocco said.
“We’re projecting approximately a two-per-cent decline in our enrollment for the upcoming school year,” he said. “But it’s also to more closely align our special education funding with our special education expenses. In the budget that was most recently passed we continue to be overspent in our special education budget by approximately $800,000.”
While the Catholic school board will be reducing staff positions, Dall said teachers’ jobs are safe for the upcoming school year. This is partially due to a maturing teaching staff.
“One thing we have done is not replace teachers as they have retired or moved on,” said Dall. “That has helped us so we haven’t had to lay off any teachers.”
If Catholic school enrollment continues to decline in the area, Dall said it’s possible teachers will be laid off in the future. While the board is hopeful this won’t happen, the numbers don’t look good. The board lost almost 2000 students in the last decade and is expecting to lose the same amount again in the next 10 to 15 years.
While enrollment to Hastings-Prince Edward board schools has been decreasing since 2002-03, Dall said enrollment to Catholic high schools in the area has only started to fall in the last two years.
“This is either the first or second year that secondary enrollment has started to decline,” he said.
Dall was unable to explain why enrollment to local Catholic schools has not been declining for the same amount of years as other local schools, but he said he expects the numbers to eventually even out.
“It’s probably going to equal out as the dust settles,” he said.
Donnell said declining enrollment is not unique to the area.
“The vast majority of school boards throughout Ontario are declining enrollment boards,” she said. “The exception would be places like the GTA where there is an influx of people who have moved from other countries. They’re growing school boards so they’re building schools left, right and centre.”
The other reason why enrollment is going down is people aren’t having as many children.
“Essentially there are fewer children being born,” said Donnell. “That’s really the reality for this area anyway.”
Like Donnell, Dall said because family sizes have tended to be smaller in recent years, the decline in students is inevitable.
“The population is going down,” he said. “Everybody’s not having five or six children anymore. Enrollment has to go down.”