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TDSB’s adult learning program at risk as board looks to fill $27.6M deficit

As the Toronto District School Boards gears up to make significant cuts, students and teachers are trying to save the TDSB’s adult learning programs

Back in 2013, the program offered Azadeh Zereshkian an affordable way to stay active and connect with her husband, following the birth of her first child.

That’s when the couple signed up for ballroom dancing classes with the TDSB’s Learn4Life Adult General Interest Courses program. 

“Many young families, they need to have a couple of hours of break from the craziness of life,” Zereshkian told CBC Toronto, saying she didn’t want to be doing “dinner and movie dates all the time.”

The North York couple, now parents of two children, have continued to take the classes. They said ballroom dancing has become a major part of their lives, which is why they were surprised to hear the school board was considering cutting the program. 

Two pictures: on the left Zereshkian and Foroughi smile at the camera. On the right is a picture of the couple dancing in ballroom attire.
Married couple, Azadeh Zereshkian and Ehsan Foroughi, have been taking ballroom dancing classes in the TDSB’s adult learning program since 2013. They were surprised to hear the school board is considering cutting the program. (Submitted by Ehsan Foroughi)

“We both were shocked,” Zereshkian said. “We didn’t know that these programs were in trouble.”

On April 4, the TDSB board will consider an internal report that’s meant to help the school board decide where to make cuts, as it faces a $27.6 million deficit in its 2024-2025 budget.

Because the continuing education program currently operates at a $9.6 million deficit, the board’s report recommends a restructuring that would see both Learn4Life and the Seniors’ Daytime Program eliminated. 

Last week, Zereshkian’s husband, Ehsan Foroughi, started an online petition aiming to raise awareness about the potential cuts.

“We did not receive any communication from the board that this is even being considered,” he told CBC Toronto.

“Many students still don’t know that this is being considered,” said Foroughi. “This program is very big, right? Hundreds of teachers, thousands of students.”

School board hears appeals to reconsider

At a public meeting on the evening of March 26, the school board listened to numerous delegations from the public.

The meeting ran five hours long and continued for another hour the following day, as continuing education students and teachers lauded the program’s benefits, benefits like affordability and the sense of community the programming affords vulnerable members of society. 

McLaughlin wears glasses with her hair pulled back. She stands in the kitchen of her home.
Erin McLaughlin is a jewelry-making student in the TDSB’s Learn4Life program. She says she initially signed up to find community after moving to Toronto from Montreal in 2022. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Erin McLaughlin, a jewelry-making student, told CBC Toronto she signed up for classes when she first moved to the city from Montreal in 2022 and found making new friends difficult.

“[Learn4Life classes] are such an easy way to be able to insert yourself into a community, even if it’s just one night a week,” she said. :I really think that’s everything to so many of these students.”

McLaughlin’s teacher is Susan Stopps. Stopps  has 36 years of teaching experience with the TDSB’s continuing education program, and she’s especially concerned about what would happen to the seniors who benefit from the classes, if they are cut.   

“There’s almost an epidemic of loneliness among seniors,” she said in an interview. “Getting out and learning new skills and talking to new people is really good for that cognitive reinforcement.”

TDSB Chair Rachel Chernos Lin has called on the province to provide additional funding. 

We’re a creature of the province,” she told CBC Toronto earlier this month. “We start with this huge deficit, and year after year, we’ve been asked to make cut after cut after cut. There’s very few places left to go.”

A woman looks away from the camera.
Rachel Chernos Lin, TDSB chair and trustee, says the board needs more support from the province to help manage the deficit. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said in an email that “despite fewer students in the system over the last five years,” the provincial government spent an extra $128 million funding the TDSB. 

“The Toronto District School Board has run large annual deficits on many occasions over successive governments in the last 20 years,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to expect TDSB to get Back-to-Basics in the classroom, and balance the budget as nearly every other school board has managed to do in this province.”

Dancing couple hope for long-term fix

Zereshkian and Foroughi are still hoping to find a way save the adult learning programming.

At the March 26 meeting, they said they had signed up, alongside a number of others, to form an advocacy group to support the school board moving forward.

Whatever the solution, Foroughi said he hopes it’s “long term.”

“Otherwise, every budget meeting this would come up,” he said.

Zereshkian and Foroughi both said they’re hopeful that f the program can be saved, then maybe it can also be expanded to include more courses and that maybe it can become a larger source of revenue for the TDSB.

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