Friday, December 8, 2017

Sick days, salaries taking away from kids, auditor says

accountability Catholic education corruption parents

TORONTO — Funding meant to help kids at increased risk of failing or to learn English is “often” redirected by school boards to expenses like teacher salaries and staff sick days, the Ontario auditor general reports..

Sick leave among school employees has jumped 29% province-wide since 2011-12, forcing boards to look in other funding pockets to pay for substitute teachers.

The Learning Opportunities Grant provided by the provincial government is supposed to be spent on at-risk students, like those from low-income families, but it’s not a legal requirement.

The Toronto District School Board used $61 million of its share of the fund in 2014-15 to cover teacher salaries, special education and supply teachers.

“The boards have discretion on how they can spend much of this funding,” the annual auditor report says. “We noted that Toronto Catholic (District School Board) used only 50% of the $46.5 million it received for at-risk students, while the remaining funds were used to support a shortfall in teacher salaries and special education funding.”

In a province that is a top destination for new immigrants, a special English-as-a-second language grant is also frequently tapped for other expenses, the auditors report says.

For example, the Toronto Catholic board spent only 58% of its $23.9 million ESL grant on ESL programming, the report says.

To help control school board costs, the auditor recommended the implementation of effective attendance support programs.

The four school boards where auditors did a deep dive – Toronto Catholic, Hamilton-Wentworth, Halton Catholic, and Hastings and Prince Edward – paid an extra $52.3 million in 2015/16 for substitute teachers, compared to four years earlier.

Toronto Catholic reported that their employees took an average 12.8 sick days a year, and that it paid $48.8 million to employees who were off sick in 2015/16.

According to an Ontario-wide study, custodians or maintenance staff and educational assistants clocked the highest number of sick days on average – more than 16 days a year.

The plan the provincial government negotiated with teachers in 2012 to replace sick day banking appears to be exacerbating the absentee problem, auditors concluded, although the government says it has seen an overall cost savings.

“One trustee association questioned why the teachers are getting 131 sick days when there are only 194 school days in a year, allowing a teacher to use sick leave benefits for up to two-thirds of each school year,” the report says.  (more...)


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