The Toronto District School Board says it requires a "New Deal" from the provincial government to address its funding challenges as it tries to balance its budget for the upcoming academic year.

In a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Wednesday, TDSB Chair Rachel Chernos-Lin said the board needs adequate funding support to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of students it serves.

The board is currently facing a projected deficit of $26.5 million for 2024-2025. The province requires school boards to submit a balanced budget by June 30.

"Just as municipalities such as the City of Toronto and Ottawa have received new funding arrangements, as the largest school board in the country, the TDSB also requires a New Deal that acknowledges the unique challenges of the largest school board in Canada," Chernos-Lin said, referring to the funding agreement reached between the two levels of government.

"We cannot continue to operate under outdated funding models that fail to address our students' current and future needs adequately. A thriving Ontario includes a thriving Toronto, and contributing to a Toronto that will still be the economic engine of the province in ten- or twenty-years' time is directly related to what we put into education today."

Chernos-Lin is asking the province to address its significant structural deficit, which was created in part, she said, by increases in Canadian Pension Plan and Employment Insurance rates, the funding gap for teacher salaries, a provincial moratorium on school closures and COVID-19 expenditures.

Earlier this month, Lecce denied TDSB's request that it temporarily be allowed to combine up to four schools per year while the province decided on the fate of the moratorium. In the letter, the TDSB chair said the board "would be in a different financial position" if its request was granted.

Chernos-Lin acknowledged that the province has provided the TDSB with $130 million in additional funding since 2019, most of which accounts for salary increases.

"The increase in per pupil funding is indeed 8.5%, which sounds impressive, but once we account for inflation, which over the same period was 13.8%, this number looks less rosy, and really points to a reduction in per-pupil funding. And while we have had the occasional adjustment to benchmarks, they have not been adjusted to reflect the true cost of doing business in Toronto," the chair said in her letter.

She pointed out that due to funding challenges, the board has been forced to make cuts on its yearly budgets since 2019 in order to balance it.

For the 2024-2025 budget, the trustees have already voted in favour of making cuts in central staff, supporting staff self-wellness and school renewal costs, resulting in a $17 million reduction.

In the coming weeks, the trustees will have to decide whether to implement other options to balance the budget. They include scaling back International Language and African Heritage Programs, restructuring adult day schools, eliminating seniors' daytime programs and weekend Grade 6 outdoor education trips, and reviewing permit fees for community groups using TDSB facilities.

"It is clear after several opportunities for public feedback that should we accept the additional options to balance brought forward by staff (currently delayed), it would have a detrimental impact on many in our communities, including seniors, newcomers, and families who have young children attending our International Language programs," Chernos-Lin said in the letter.

She concluded the letter, saying that she is willing to meet with Minister Lecce to discuss further the challenges the board is facing.

“Minister, I know you want our students to succeed. So do we,” Chernos-Lin said.

The TDSB has more than 238,000 students at 582 schools and also serves more than 100,000 learners in Adult and Continuing Education programs.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Minister Lecce said the province has provided billions of dollars more of funding to school boards.

"Even though there are fewer students in the system, particularly at TDSB, we expect school boards to balance their budgets and put students' academic achievement as the foremost priority. That is the message we're sending to school boards," Lecce said.

"The message sent to TDSB is they have 100 million plus more dollars and 10,000 fewer students to exercise the leadership and actually get back to the basics of education in Ontario classrooms."