In what appears to be precedent-setting, Toronto’s Catholic board plans to charge teachers $10 a day for parking in the school lot — a “ridiculous” move that amounts to a “salary clawback,” say educators who feel the board is balancing the budget on their backs.
Trustees at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, which faces a $32-million deficit because of funding cuts by the Ford government, agreed to a parking fee as a way to generate revenue and save student resources and programs that were on the chopping block.
At a special board meeting about the budget on Tuesday night, trustees passed the motion that a fee be implemented at all school facilities and board headquarters. Teachers and administrators will pay $10 a day, while education workers, administrative workers and facilities workers will pay $5 a day. The fee — an idea that’s been floated before — could generate an estimated $6.4 million in annual revenue.
“We decided that our children were the priority and the education they were getting in their schools was really really important,” board chair Maria Rizzo told the Star on Wednesday. “It was a choice between: On the backs of kids or on the backs of staff. And no one, no one felt good about it. No one wanted to make that decision.”
The motion was one of several presented as a way to raise money to offset cuts to special education, English-as-a-second language programs, guidance counsellors, educational assistants and a literacy program.
Across the province, school boards are grappling with how to balance their budgets in light of provincial funding cuts by Doug Ford’s PC government, which will result in larger class sizes, fewer course selections, and various programs being slashed — and the possibility of teacher layoffs. Toronto’s public board is facing a budget shortfall of $67.8 million — but it’s not considering a parking fee.
On Wednesday, staff at the Catholic board spent the day determining the feasibility of a fee, associated costs and logistical questions around how it would be implemented. Staff will report on Thursday evening to the board, when it’s scheduled to have a final vote on the budget.
While the parking fee appears to be precedent-setting at the school board level — teachers currently don’t pay for parking — Rizzo said staff at other organizations in the GTA, such as hospitals, universities and colleges, cover their own parking costs.
“Trustees should be focusing their time and energy on opposing the regressive cuts of the Doug Ford government, rather than enabling them on the backs of teachers and education workers,” said Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the union representing the province’s Catholic teachers.
“The association will be pursuing every legal recourse to make sure that its members in the TCDSB are not victims to the school board’s punitive actions.”
Stephanie Rea, spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said the government campaigning on finding savings and is giving school boards and municipalities the tools they need to find them, including $7.35 million in support through the Audit and Accountability Fund.
“We hope school boards take this opportunity, as this support will go towards helping school boards conduct line-by-line reviews of their spending,” she said in a statement, adding the government is confident boards can find savings.
Patricia Minnan-Wong, president of the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers, the local unit representing 4,000 members, says the parking fee amounts to a “levy.” With 194 school days in a year, it would cost teachers close to $2,000 to park, which she considers “a salary clawback.”
She said teachers feel “tremendously disappointed, devalued and treated like a commodity to balance the budget.”
“I think in the long run, this is going to damage the culture, and climate and relationship in the schools moving forward. I think (the board is) going to lose the goodwill of all of my teachers.”
While there are those in various sectors and organizations who cover their own parking costs, Minnan-Wong said a lot of teachers face out-of-pocket expenses for things used in their lesson plans and work far beyond the instructional day and are not compensated. She says the key issue isn’t the parking fee itself, but rather the Ford government’s underfunding of public education.
Similarly, Gillian Vivona, president of the Toronto Secondary Unit — it represents 2,200 Catholic high school teachers — says, “It’s really unfortunate that the trustees are attempting to make up for the cuts that the Ford government has done.”
“They want their staff to pay for the Ford cuts, when we’re already going to be paying. It’s not acceptable.”
She called the parking fee “ridiculous,” noting the board considered a $5 charge in 2015, but abandoned the idea because there were too many logistical — and costly — issues implementing it. For instance, would parking gates be installed? Would there be a fee on professional development days? Would students be allowed to continue using lots? Would there be in and out privileges? And how would fees be collected — would they come off pay cheques? Also, would itinerant teachers, who run part-time programs and visit more than one school in a day, be charged multiple times? And how about parents and volunteers? Would they be charged to park?
Given all the challenges, Vivona, who was at the meeting Tuesday, was “seriously dumbfounded” when the issue resurfaced — and heard the price had doubled. And, she says, it’s not a predictable source of revenue because teachers may choose other ways of getting to work or decide to park elsewhere.
She says she warned trustees: “Be prepared to get a lot of phone calls from constituents when teachers start parking in the streets.”
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74