Custodian mopping school floorsLast Friday’s announcement of the government’s cuts to education funding has left some education workers at Lakehead District School Board (LDSB) fearing the worst for the safety of students in the region’s schools.

The government’s education funding for 2019-20 slashed a total $2.13 million from Lakehead District School Board’s budgets and chopped its per-pupil funding by $199 a head – money that would have helped fund services of frontline workers who support children’s education. Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board also suffered a cut of more than $1.3 million. 

Province-wide, 2500 education jobs will be lost because of government funding cuts to school boards. At LDSB, education workers represented by CUPE – custodians, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers – are waiting anxiously to learn whether they will receive layoff notices.

“The services provided by CUPE custodians, cafeteria workers and maintenance workers help to support children’s learning in dozens of different ways. We’re worried that losing their services will harm students and their learning environments,” said Rod McGee, president of CUPE 2486 at Lakehead District School Board.

McGee went on to explain the reasons behind his concerns: “Losing custodians could mean closing classrooms. More children would have to squeeze into the remaining rooms. This has consequences for everything from the quality of students’ learning environment to how illnesses are transmitted from pupil to pupil. 

“Custodians are also responsible for carrying out daily water testing, first thing in the morning. Parents may not be aware of it, but boards know it and the Ford government knows it too. It’s skilled and important work that keeps everyone in the school healthy. It’s the type of task that can’t be skimped on without putting the health of everyone in the school in jeopardy.

“Maintenance workers keep schools in good repair; they are responsible for the fabric of the school building and for making sure schools are safe places to learn and work. Likewise, our cafeteria workers are the people who make sure that the food students eat is healthy and safe.

“The same thinking goes for everyone who works in a school, whether it’s an education assistant, a teacher, the school secretary – we all play a vital role in making schools work.”

CUPE, which represents 55,000 education workers in Ontario schools, is calling the cuts to the 2019-20 Grants for Student Needs funding by the Ministry of Education “an attack on students, on public education and on the people who provide services to students.”

“Parents should be concerned to the point of outrage at the way this government putting their children’s education and well being at risk,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions. She added that the knock-on effects of losing education workers like the custodians, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers at LDSB will mean “safety concerns for Ontario students and their families.”

Commenting on the cuts to the Grants for Student Needs announced last week, Walton said: “This is a cut in absolute terms, and it’s even worse when adjusted for inflation,” noting that there will be over 11,000 more students enrolled in Ontario schools next year, “yet in March the government cut some $300 million from budgets that help to fund education workers.”

“Ontario students and their families rely on the services that education workers perform. Schools can’t operate without them. Yet the Ford government is responsible for getting rid of the workers who provide these services. We can’t call it anything but an attack on our public education system,” Walton concluded.