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Distance learning may be the new reality for Ontario students

Learning at home, HVAC funding among challenges for TLDSB

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Distance learning may be the new reality for Ontario students

Senior staff at Trillium Lakelands Board of Education made sure trustees were aware at their regular September meeting of the challenges they’re facing — including upgrading HVAC systems.

The challenge, according to superintendent of business Tim Ellis, is that although the board received additional funding for HVAC updates of more than $500,000, boards only have eight weeks to spend it or lose it.

Ellis said apart from ordering new filters and investigating new technologies, TLDSB is waiting on a handful of companies who are now booked into next year to make any real changes to the board’s heating and cooling systems — making the government’s imposed eight-week deadline all but impossible to follow.

“We are hoping to convince the province to give us more time to contract and spend those funds,” Ellis said.

Trillium Lakelands has received almost $2 million in additional funding from the province to be spent on PPE, HVAC improvements, transportation, distance learning and additional staffing.

He told trustees of the realities of trying to order PPE and HVAC filters at a time of high demand and low supply.

“There is a backlog on filters,” Ellis told trustees, “because of new legislation in some American states where shopping malls have been forced to upgrade their HVAC systems.”

Trustees also heard about the likely suspension of the Program Enhancement Fund that supports programs like Trillium Lakelands Arts Camp, the board’s concern about having financial flexibility moving forward and the issues being faced trying to roll-out the Learning at Home program for those who chose not to return to learning in person.

Superintendant of Schools Dave Golden, whose portfolio includes the Program Enhancement Fund, updated trustees on the program and changes that may be coming to how it may run in the future.

Every year the board sets aside considerable funds (last year it was $279,000) to support staff-generated activities that act as enrichment outside the regular curriculum. For 2019-2020, 98 projects were approved but because of labour disagreements and the pandemic many were not completed and $91,000 remains unspent.

“This may be the last time this kind of money will be available,” Director of Education Wes Hahn said.

Golden told trustees that new mandates from the Ministry of Education have directed boards that until boards are running a surplus again spending like this fund may be a thing of the past.

Director of Education for TLDSB, Wes Hahn.

Golden and Hahn suggested the board might not be in a surplus situation again until 2022-2023.

Trustees were very concerned that the absence of this funding will “threaten” programs like TLAC, the very popular arts and culture camp that runs at Camp White Pine in Haliburton every spring for students in grades 7-12.

The board has also committed $995,000 of its reserve to enhanced staffing, and has plans for an additional $2.2 million of its $3 million left in reserve.

“We have very little flexibility moving forward,” Ellis shared.

Hahn in his return-to-school update stressed that generally things had gone very well in the first two weeks of school, “only made possible by leadership coming from teachers, custodians and office staff from right across the board.”

Hahn described the opening as “hard work” and at times “frustrating work.”

“The Learning at Home (distance learning) component is a challenge,” Hahn said. Thousands of local students have selected the Learning at Home option and as of late September the program is still not up and running in its entirety.

“We have five administrators working day and night to make this a reality,” Hahn said. “It is a work in progress and we appreciate the patience parents and students are showing.”

“We will make this a success,” Hahn promised.

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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