After an agonizing wait, education workers at Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNC) finally learned last week the full and bleak extent of the Ford government’s education cuts, and the final picture has workers worried about how students will fare in the coming school year.
As information about the cuts trickled out from PVNC, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents approximately 800 education workers at the board, has pieced together a shocking picture of program cuts, reduced services, shortened hours and lost jobs in the board’s 30 elementary and six high schools. Over 200 employees received layoff notices and the union has calculated an overall loss of about 80 full-time jobs – each loss directly related to the Ford government’s cuts to Grants for Student Needs and other education funding sources.
“My colleagues and I are genuinely worried about what will happen to PVNC students in September,” said Nora Shaughnessy, president of CUPE Local 1453. “Each lost job represents vital services that PVNC students won’t have access to next year.”
Shaughnessy fully expects that children with special needs will suffer most from the cuts: 50 education assistant (EA) jobs have been eliminated, including three specialists in autism speech disorder and four itinerant EAs, who provided advice and guidance on supporting children with exceptionalities.
She detailed other positions cut as part of the layoffs at PVNC: two social workers, a speech language pathologist, four early childhood educators, two-and-a-half school secretaries’ positions, 11 custodians, an information technician, a general carpenter, and one-and-a-half jobs in the PVNC office.
“The great majority of these jobs are done by frontline workers and all of them contribute to making schools work and ensuring students’ success.”
“These cuts will mean real struggle and hardship for PVNC students and their families, just as they do for students and families across Ontario,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
The uncertainty of the layoff process has added to workers’ stress and anxiety, noted Shaughnessy, who has watched many of her colleagues forced to choose between termination, moving to a new community to keep a job, or losing benefits by switching to supply work. She also criticized the board’s approach to the layoffs and charged it with “playing games” that reduced workers’ ability to exercise their seniority.
But Shaughnessy’s biggest concerns are reserved for PVNC students, who she believes will return in September to schools very different from the ones they left in June.
“For our students’ sake, we have to do our best to make sure they have the services they deserve, the services they need to succeed,” she said. She also vowed that she and her fellow education workers would continue working alongside parents, teachers, community groups, labour and other allies to fight the cuts.