Queen's Park Watch: The Education of Dalton McGuinty
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Queen’s Park Watch: The Education of Dalton McGuinty

The Toronto District School Board beat their budget shortfall, but it won't be pretty. Let the finger-pointing begin.

Budgetary restraint isn’t just rough on people who pay taxes and use government services. It can also be hell on reputations. Just ask Dalton McGuinty.

This week, the self-styled “Education Premier” lurked quietly in the background as the Toronto District School Board made budget cuts of 58 million dollars. Back in March, the board laid off almost 51 million dollars’ worth of staff (it’s not clear whether tough-but-fair principals with baseball bats and pretty white ladies who fight gang violence with poetry were included) for a total budget hit of $109 million, or about 3.7 per cent of the TDSB budget.

The cuts are wide-ranging, from building maintenance, to professional development, to a controversial plan to increase fees for groups using school properties by 41 per cent. As many as 32 cafeterias will also be closed. Ironically, they will be victims of the Liberals’ push for healthy food in schools. (When junk food disappeared from cafs, so did the kids. Generation McNugget headed en masse for greasier pastures, and took their lunch money with them.)

It’s probably impossible to find $109 million worth of fat in TDSB’s budget, so there was always bound to be an impact on the junior taxpayers students who show up every day in the hopes getting some education. If that’s so, who do we blame?

The province provides 95 per cent of TDSB’s funding. It cut that allotment by $12 million this year, while still demanding the implementation of all-day kindergarten, which is an expensive publicly-funded babysitting service that the Drummond Report recommended scrapping. Education Minister Laurel Broten counters that the Liberals have bumped TDSB budgets by 34 per cent since 2003, while the number of students has dropped by 12,000.

On balance, the Liberals have done a good job on education, presiding over higher test scores, improved high-school graduation rates, and, most recently, anti-bullying legislation (which was over-politicized, but still a good thing).

However, years of humouring public-sector unions in return for labour peace has been expensive: the majority of TDSB costs are salaries, wages, and benefits. And after dancing comes piper-paying.

The TDSB and its charges will survive, wild-eyed references to “bloodbaths” notwithstanding. But allies that the Grits might have had in the educational bureaucracies and institutions won’t be doing any canvassing for them come election day. And the next time a five-year-old brings a .357 for show and tell, it’ll be blamed on budget cuts.

The Liberals may come to wish they’d lost the last election and bequeathed the hard choices to someone else.