People holding signs protesting cuts to educationFront-line education workers rallied outside of the Muskoka Education Centre on Tuesday evening, urging Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) trustees to reject the proposed 2022-2023 board budget because it contained staffing cuts that will harm the quality of education for students.

“We’re bringing our pink slips to the school board meeting today, so TLDSB trustees have to see the human faces of their cuts,” said Bill Campbell, president of CUPE 997. “Not only should there be a moratorium on any more damaging cuts that hurt students, it’s time for a budget that funds more staff to support students, more staff to properly clean schools, and more staff to keep everyone safe.”

Trillium Lakelands District School Board has announced it plans to cut 77 front-line staff, including educational assistants, custodians, and outdoor education technicians. The board’s decision to quietly shutter the Yearly Outdoor Education Centre has been especially troubling.

“The sneaky closure of the Outdoor Education Centre is a huge loss,” said Campbell. “Grade six students have gone there for more than four decades. Our kids are being forced to cope with the devastation of climate change, so it’s more important than ever for TLDSB students to reconnect with nature in a way that’s accessible to everyone.”

Tuesday’s rally followed a demonstration by CUPE 1453 members on Monday at the Catholic school board office in Peterborough. Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board front-line education workers called on their communities’ trustees to take a stand against service cuts.

“Custodians need to know there will be enough of them to fight the next wave of COVID-19. Clerical Workers go in early and stay late – working unpaid time – to protect students’ safety and ensure the smooth operation of our schools. Educational Assistants see that more of them must be hired to provide the one-on-one supports students need and parents demand. Early Childhood Educators have to be in every kindergarten classroom to give our youngest students the hands-on experiences that four- and five-year-olds crave,” explained Laura Walton president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU).

“The lowest-paid education workers are on the chopping block,” said Walton. “These are people who have worked on the frontlines throughout the pandemic – they’re the backbone of every community’s schools. No one voted for more cuts and it’s time for Trillium Lakelands trustees to pass a no-cuts budget.”

“These staff positions were created with funding that we, front-line education workers, negotiated as part of our collective agreement in 2019,” Campbell observed. “That funding has been extended by the provincial government for an additional year. This board had a $2.7 million surplus last year. Students need the help, the money is there, so trustees should keep front-line staff working to provide the supports kids need.”