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Province adding funding options with back to school looming

DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard

DURHAM/KAWARTHA LAKES: With school boards looking for more funds, following the release of the province’s back to school plan, the Ontario government has increased school boards’ access to their own reserve funds. An Ontario press release stated, the provincial government is “unlocking access to reserves up to $496 million, an increase of $244 million, by allowing boards to access up to 2 per cent of their operating budget from their prior year accumulated surplus.” “For boards that do not have sufficient reserves, the government will provide up to an additional $11 million in funding to support equitable school re-opening plans provincewide,” read the press release. The Ontario government also announced, on Thursday, August 13th, they are making a one-time investment of $50 million towards HVAC and ventilation improvements in schools. “This investment and access to reserves will enable more social distancing and improve air quality, and ultimately strengthen the layers of protection to keep students and staff safe,” Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce said, in a press release. Durham District School Board (DDSB) Trustees had recently sent a letter to the education minister with their concerns about the provincial back to school plan. “The failure to ensure limits on elementary class sizes and the appropriate physical distancing, as recommended by the medical community, disregards the reality that children can also contract and transmit COVID-19 between each other and their close contacts. We are also concerned that the Ministry has not provided enough funding to ensure the safe transport of students to school, based on the guidance from Transport Canada and the Public Services Health and Safety Association, as referenced in the Ministry’s Guide to Reopen Schools. The Durham District School Board urges the Ministry of Education to immediately provide the funding necessary to all publicly funded school boards in Ontario to ensure that the full hierarchy of safety controls are implemented before the return to school, less than a month away,” read the letter from all members of the board of trustees. At the time the letter was sent, on Wednesday, August 12th, the DDSB stated they needed more funds to “provide more staff to create smaller and safer class sizes in elementary schools that ensures physical distancing, to address safety concerns on school buses, along with the necessary capital upgrades and further improvements to ventilation systems in DDSB schools.”

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