Trustees at the Toronto District School Board passed a budget for the 2019-2020 school year Wednesday night that slashed programs and services to shave off almost $68 million as part of a budget reduction plan.

Trustees had to cut $67.8 million in staff reductions and changes to program and service delivery over two years in order to grapple with a $42.1 million reduction in funding from the Ministry of Education and a budget deficit of $25.7 million.

“The Board has worked tirelessly to approve a balanced budget for 2019-20, while absorbing significant funding reductions from the Ministry of Education,” TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey said in a statement following the meeting. “Despite these challenges, we have been careful to ensure that we continue to have sufficient resources to offer an outstanding education experience for our students.”

The TDSB said it expects to maintain, and in some cases exceed, funding for key areas such as special education, early years literacy and intervention, school safety and security, model schools and initiatives to promote equity and anti-racism initiatives.

Pilkey said the board made its decision in part, based on “extensive” public consultations, which included thousands of online submissions.

The budget passed by a vote of 18-4. It slashes funding from learning centres, outdoor education, Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and other programs. The board will also employ fewer student support service staff and psychologists. Fewer speech and language pathologists and social workers will be employed in 2019-2020, but the board says the move is ultimately unsustainable and the same staffing level for those jobs will likely be restored in 2020-2021.

Critics slammed trustees following the meeting and said students will suffer because of the cuts.

“Every single one of these cuts are tied to the vulnerability of our students,” said Lisa Skeete, a parent who attended the meeting. “Who listened? If we had had the courage to say no, we would have set a precedent that other boards would have followed, so shame.”

Kim Fry, a teacher who attended the meeting and spoke with CP24 said she’s concerned that the most vulnerable students will be impacted by the cuts.

“I think all students are going to feel the effects of these cuts, as are students, as are teachers, support staff and parents. But the students who will feel it the hardest are going to be the students who are most vulnerable, the already most-marginalized students,” said Fry, who also serves as chair of the political action committee of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.

TDSB Director John Malloy called the circumstances around this year’s budget “very difficult” but said the board will continue to focus on students.

“We will continue to focus on service to our students for their achievement and well-being,” Malloy said in a statement.

The TDSB – the largest school board in the country – has an overall budget of $3.4 billion