What’s a Board to do?
Last night, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) passed a balanced budget – it had no
t choice, as it would be in defiance of the Education Act, which would have dire consequences for the beleaguered Board.
achieve that “balanced” budget, the Board had to cut some cafeterias, reduce the budget alloted to fixing the crumbling infrastructure, and potentially find provisional funding for special education, funds for social workers and psychologists. The provisional funding may not come through, and may be dependent on further expected savings from a pending operations review.
The problem with cost cutting
If the TDSB has to cut costs, what is wrong with doing so through cost cutting and downsizing? According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Standfor’s Graduate School of Business, who once wrote in the Washington Post, “There are two things to say about downsizing: It seldom works and is often done incorrectly.”
From a basic organizational perpsective (i.e. regardless of the setting), downsizing has a negative effect on an organization’s corporate memory and employee morale, disrupts social networks, causes a loss of knowledge, and disrupts learning networks.
What does reducing human resources mean in a school
setting? It means teachers will have fewer tools to use to teach your children and there are fewer resources available to help out troubled youth.
How about cutting cafeterias? Having an effective school cafeteria with a nutritious menu means that students from all socio-economic background have access to the right nutrients and calories. Numerous studies exist that show reducing sugar and fat intake leads to higher IQs and improved grades in school. For instance, Stephen Schoenthaler, professor of criminal justice at California State University proved that much when he conducted a study on students at 803 low-income neighborhood schools in New York City. With a supervised change in the students’ diets, students improved their focus, presented fewer anti-social behaviours, peform better on memory tests, and in the end improve their grades.
Reducing the budget for improving school infrastructure? While it saves money now, a study by the US Department of Education found that crumbling schools leads to increased rates of illness, lower student achievement, as well as reduced teacher productivity. Another study in the US found that “the overall evidence strongly suggests that poor environments in schools, due primarily to effects of indoor pollutants, adversely influence the health, performance, and attendanceof students.”
What to Do?
So in the end it comes down to a balancing act. While the Government of Ontario wants to invest in education to have a strong, educated workforce it will need to make sure it doesnt give with the right hand, while it takes away from the left. Cuts like those that were approved can nibble away at the school system, and leave kids worse off – which means in about 20 years our economy and society will be worse off too.
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