Regular school day ‘only suitable option’: UCDSB to Lecce

The Upper Canada District School Board office at 225 Central Avenue West in Brockville, Ont. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

BROCKVILLE – The Upper Canada District School Board will tell Ontario’s education minister that a regular school day – starting in about six weeks – is the “only suitable option” for the upcoming school year.

The Eastern Ontario board voted Wednesday night to send a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce outlining its position on the school year while also requesting money to cover “incremental costs” associated with increased health measures and staffing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even though the decision lays in the hands of the province, we as elected officials have to stand up for our students and let them know we support full-time learning for them based on the situation in our community,” trustee Lisa Swan said in proposing the motion.

The Ontario government is expected to make a decision by mid-August whether it will be full-time classes, a mix of in-class and at-home learning or an entire school year of distance education.

“I added the request for funding because I think to keep our students and staff safe, we may need to use off-site locations, to deliver programming and reduce class sizes, which will require more staff. There has never been a better time for the province to invest in public education and to ensure safety for all that are participating in it,” Swan added.

Based on calculations by Executive Superintendent of Business Services Jeremy Hobbs, the board could be spending as much as $865,000 in the first month to meet coronavirus related demands for supplies and staffing, depending on what scenario the province chooses.

That could include up to 14 full-time equivalent custodians ($75,000 first month), 45 full-time equivalent occasional teachers ($270,000 first month) and 20 full-time equivalent office support staff ($80,000 first month).

Trustee David McDonald called the budget for staffing up front “a little unwelcome” considering the board just passed its budget with a $200,000 surplus, which would be wiped out in the first month and put the board in a deficit.

“I completely understand the required for enhanced cleaning…but to have teachers and staff on standby should we have someone get infected, we don’t normally do that. If we have them on standby and we’re paying them but they’re not being used, that’s really a waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” McDonald said.

Education Director Stephen Sliwa answered that there is still a lot of uncertainty and a clearer picture on what staffing needs will actually be needed will come in the next month or so.

There is also $290,000 in consumable supplies, like hand sanitizer, gloves and cleaning wipes. There’s another $150,000 in supplies and equipment, like hand washing stations, signs, face shields and safety goggles.

The board has leased a building near the board office on Central Avenue West in Brockville to house all the supplies and act as a distribution center for PPE, Hobbs explained.

Executive Superintendent of Business Services Jeremy Hobbs also noted for the board that they are purchasing 1,300 to 1,400 computers for off-site student use – up from the 1,100 in the original proposal.

Board chairman John McAllister said he felt “very confident” with all three scenarios that are planned.

The first day of school for UCDSB students is Friday, Sept. 4.