How the new $1.1-billion in provincial funding for school repairs breaks down

On June 27, 2016, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter announced an investment of $1.1-billion to repair schools across the province.  Here is a breakdown of how this investment will flow to school boards.

  • An increase of $500-million to school boards to use for school repairs this summer; $460-million of the $500-million total will be allocated via School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding* and $40-million will be allocated via School Renewal Allocation (SRA) funding**. When added to the existing funding commitment of $500-million in SCI funding and $320-million in SRA funding, the total funding for school repairs this 2015/16 year will total $1.3-billion.
  • An increase of $575-million to school boards to use for school repairs in 2016/17; $535-million of which will be allocated via SCI funding and $40-million of which will be allocated via SRA funding. When added to the commitment of $500-million in SCI funding and $320-million in SRA funding, the total funding for school boards to use for school repairs next year in 2016/17 will be the $1.4-billion annual funding that Ontario’s Auditor-General said is needed to keep Ontario’s publicly funded schools in a state of good repair.

Fix Our Schools is pleased that this new level of annual funding for school repairs follows the Auditor General’s 2015 recommendation of $1.4-billion per year, an amount that represents an industry standard of investing 2.5% of a buildings replacement value in annual maintenance in order to keep that asset in a state of good repair.

Fix Our Schools is also pleased that this money is being allocated to school boards based on their renewal needs and that the provincial government has committed to publicly posting detailed information regarding the condition and renewal needs of each of Ontario’s 4,900 public schools.

However, a $15-billion repair backlog has been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools over the past 20 years that is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, Fix Our Schools remains committed to working with all MPPs and School Boards to ensure that:

  • The new level of investment of $1.4-billion/year starts to decrease the $15-billion repair backlog that currently exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.
  • The issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools is a major election issue in the next provincial election in 2018; and continues to be an important focus of our provincial government.

* SCI funding, as explained on pages 127-28 in the Education Funding Technical Paper, 2016-17:

In 2016-17, School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding will remain at $500 million. The 2016–17 funding represents the third year of the $1.25 billion investment announced in memorandum 2014:B4 – Grants for Student Needs Funding and Regulations for 2014–15.This funding is intended to help boards address the identified renewal backlog from the data collected to date through the Ministry’s five-year Condition Assessment Program, which began in 2011.

Beginning in 2015–16, the Ministry changed the funding approach for SCI. SCI funding is now allocated in proportion to a board’s total assessed renewal needs under the Ministry’s Condition Assessment Program.

School boards are required to direct 80 percent of SCI funding to key building components (for example, foundations, roofs, windows) and systems (for example, HVAC and plumbing). School boards are allowed to use the remaining 20 percent of their new SCI funding to address any locally-identified renewal needs that are listed in the VFA.facility database. School boards have the flexibility to prioritize schools and individual components and systems that fit under these categories and deal with problems as they emerge, rather than having to wait for the next condition assessment of a building.

80% of SCI funds must be targeted to building envelope (foundation, roof, windows, etc.) and mechanical systems (electrical, HVAC, plumbing, etc.)

20% of SCI funds are discretionary, offering school boards flexibility to allocate towards renewal capital project at existing schools (e.g. science labs, interior finishings, etc.)

Unspent funds from a board’s SCI allocation may be carried forward to the following year.

Boards will be required to report spending of this SCI funding in the VFA.facility database. Reimbursement of board expenditure is contingent on timely reporting. Payments will be made twice a year based on reported expenditure. The Ministry will fund short-term interest costs related to these expenditures reflecting that SCI funding will occur on a bi-annual basis, consistent with other capital programs.

Boards must use this funding on depreciable renewal expenditures in schools that are expected to remain open and operating for at least five years. Boards should use the funding to address renewal priorities of the board, including addressing health and safety, replacing and repairing building components, improving the energy efficiency of schools, and improving accessibility. Boards are not to use this funding to expand the size of schools, build new schools, or to service debt.

** SRA funding, synthesized from information on pages 114-22 in the Education Funding Technical Paper, 2016-17:

The provincial government allocates SRA funding to school boards predominantly based on the number of pupils in a given board, although other factors such as age of buildings and utilization rates of schools are also taken into consideration in how this funding is allocated.

School boards are to use this money for repairing and renovating schools. Generally, school boards use SRA funding for more “cosmetic” repairs such as painting – which are also included in the $15-billion repair backlog total. These types of repairs are important in sending a positive message to students about their learning environment, to teachers and staff about their working environment and to the community, in general, about the importance of our publicly funded schools as critical infrastructure. Therefore, SRA funding is a good complement to SCI funding.

 

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Fix Our Schools pleased with new level of provincial funding for school repairs

Fix Our Schools is pleased that today, the provincial government has recognized schools as critical infrastructure in Ontario by increasing annual funding for school repairs to $1.3-billion this year and $1.4-billion in 2016/17. We are also pleased that all political party leaders at Queen’s Park have recognized the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools as an important one.

“Over the past two decades, Ontario has dug a $15-billion hole of disrepair in our publicly funded schools”, says Krista Wylie, a parent and co-founder of the Fix Our Schools Campaign. “With this new funding commitment of $1.4-billion/year for school repairs, we’ve stopped the digging but a large hole remains. This Fall, children will still return to aging classrooms with leaking roofs – so we stay committed to working with the provincial government and Ontario’s school boards to ensure we Fix Our Schools.”

Earlier this year, Fix Our Schools called upon the provincial government to increase annual funding for school repairs to $1.4-billion/year – the amount identified by the Auditor-General as needed to keep Ontario’s publicly funded schools in a state of good repair. Fix Our Schools also asked for a long-term funding plan that would address the $15-billion repair backlog that has accumulated in Ontario’s schools over the past two decades.

Fix Our Schools looks forward to working with all MPP’s and School Boards to ensure that:

  • The new level of investment of $1.4-billion/year starts to decrease the $15-billion repair backlog that currently exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.
  • The issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools is a major election issue in the next provincial election in 2018; and continues to be an important focus of our provincial government.
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First day of summer in Ontario schools

This first official day of summer is hot. With humidity – it will feel even hotter. But school isn’t out for the summer yet. Across Ontario, 2-million students and thousands of teachers and staff will be in schools today – most without the benefit of air conditioning.

Temperatures in classrooms of old Ontario schools will soar to 40 plus degrees today. Victor Ferreira explores this issue as it pertains to Toronto schools in the article entitled, “It’s stinking hot. So why do so few of Toronto’s schools have air conditioning?” in the June 20, 2016 edition of the National Post.

If Ferreira had explored the issue province-wide, the article would have been very much the same story. Ontario’s school temperatures are an issue both in the winter, when many classrooms are too cold to learn, and in the fall/spring/summer, when temperatures inside old schools with no air conditioning are too hot.

However you analyze the issue, to fix it, we need more money to Fix Our Schools. Premier Wynne, will you prioritize Ontario’s publicly funded schools and allocate funding to ensure all Ontario students attend buildings that are safe, well-maintained and provide environments conducive to learning?

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What kind of commitment is that?

During question period at Queen’s Park on June 8, 2016, Patrick Brown, Leader of the Ontario PC Party and PC Education Critic, asked Premier Wynne about her government’s commitment to the children of this province, given that her government has allowed $15-billion of disrepair to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

MPP Brown asked the Premier, “how many more years will students have to learn and teachers have to teach in our crumbling schools? We must do better. Will the Premier commit to that?” and cites Fix Our Schools several times as he lists specific examples of unacceptable disrepair that impacts students and teachers daily. 

In response to Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals, MPP Brown calls them out on the fact that their increases to education spending are simply not enough and surely not worth bragging about: “The Minister of Education brags that they have a $15 billion problem and they’re going to deal with 7% of it—some 7%. How about all those students in those schools where there’s mould and disrepair?

And goes on to ask Kathleen Wynne, “How can the Premier expect children to learn while they shiver and are forced to wear winter coats in the classroom? Will the Premier commit to dealing with the huge list, the backlog of $15 billion to fix our schools?

Fix Our Schools is thrilled to have this support. Thanks MPP Brown for raising awareness and increasing pressure!  We are now working with both the NDP and PC parties in this province on this issue, which is truly a non-partisan issue!. The children and adults in this province who spend their days in our publicly funded schools deserve better and Fix Our Schools is committed to knocking on every door to find solutions.

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We love “unsexy” investments in infrastructure

2016_05_30_Trudeau sexy investmentWe, at the Fix Our Schools campaign, are all for unsexy investments in public infrastructure. So we were thrilled to read about “bucks for the unsexy side of transit” by Edward Keenan in the May 7, 2016 Toronto Star and see that Justin Trudeau’s federal government has pledged up to $840-million for TTC maintenance. Yes, that’s right – maintenance of public transit!

While politicians are keen to make sexy investments in brand new infrastructure, they often forget the next logical step of allocating the required funding to maintain that new investment.

In Ontario alone, over $15-billion of disrepair has been allowed to accumulate in our publicly funded schools because our provincial government has chronically and grossly underfunded the maintenance of these important buildings – where 2-million childen spend their days.

Perhaps ribbon-cuttings for new roofs and new boilers in schools is warranted? Somehow, we need to make investing in the maintenance of our publicly funded schools sexy for politicians. 

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EQAO a potential funding source to Fix Our Schools?

In a May 15, 2016 article in the Globe & Mail entitled, “Ontario teachers encouraged to withdraw own kids from standardized tests“, an interesting question is raised:

Is the money the provincial government spends each year on EQAO testing the best use of our limited public funds?

“The Federation views province-wide testing of every student in the primary and junior divisions and Grades 9 and 10 as both a misuse of student time, and an ineffective use of funds that should be redirected to support students’ learning,” the ETFO memo stated.

Given the following:

  • Ontario’s Auditor-General has confirmed that the Province has underfunded school repairs in this province by $5.8-billion over the past five years
  • Over $15-billion of disrepair has been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools

we do need to question where education funding money is being allocated to ensure that student needs are being met. ETFO raises an interesting perspective by questioning the value of EQAO testing.

With a $15-billion problem to be addressed, Fix Our Schools encourages Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government to consider all possible solutions with an open mind. It is simply not enough to say, “there is no money to fix schools”.

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Join us at a Campfire in Toronto on June 9!

You’re invited to a family-friendly campfire to meet others involved with the Fix Our Schools campaign and find out more/exchange ideas on how we can work together to Fix Our Schools! Marshmallows and hot chocolate will be served. 

We know that many of you live outside the GTA but if you happen to be in town on June 9th, we’d love to see you. 

When? Thursday, June 9 from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Where? Dufferin Grove Park, just south of the Dufferin subway – follow the signs to the campfire.

For more information, contact info@fixourschools.ca 

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Why have poor school conditions in Ontario not received more attention?

Disrepair in publicly funded schools is complicated. Through our work with Fix Our Schools, we have found that at every turn, stakeholders involved in this issue are reluctant to shine a light on disrepair in Ontario’s schools:

  • Parents don’t want to believe they drop their children off at a school that is in disrepair and so would rather focus on the great things happening in their children’s schools.  
  • Teachers don’t have time or the political will to be the “squeaky wheel” every time there is disrepair in their school that needs addressing. 
  • Principals and Superintendents don’t wish to highlight their school(s) as being in poor condition and risk unleashing a maelstrom of parent anger and frustration (many parents we speak to actually blame principals and caretakers for the disrepair they notice in their children’s schools, which is totally not the case at all!). 
  • Trustees and School Boards don’t want to risk “biting the hand that feeds them” so tend to be “careful” about naming the provincial government’s funding as the root cause of disrepair in schools.
  • Teachers Unions represent individual teacher health and safety concerns when teachers raise these issues. However, they have not focused on disrepair in schools and the impact on teacher working conditions as a key negotiation issue to date.
  • Media want photographs of schools in disrepair to illustrate in vivid detail how disrepair looks and create a newsworthy, sensational story. However, they are unable to get permission to access these schools because no principal wants to be the school featured (understandable!) and so media has not provided adequate coverage to this important issue.   

And so, disrepair in schools gets ignored again and again and continues to get worse – either because of lack of perspective, time, bandwidth, courage, interest, or political will.

So, collectively, we’ve all in some small way allowed the provincial government to continue to underfund school buildings over the past several decades. To fix our schools, we must come together to not only shine a light on this issue but to demand action on this issue from our provincial government. 

To make matters more complicated, much of the $15-billion of disrepair in schools is invisible to the naked eye. Structural concerns, repairs to fire alarm and suppression systems go unnoticed until they fail. You won’t know that the boiler at a school should have been replaced ten years ago until it stops working in February and school gets cancelled for a day! You won’t know that the fire alarm system was broken until … well – you get the idea. So much of the disrepair lurks beneath the surface and is impossible to illustrate, which means people don’t know about it and cannot shine a light on it. 

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Imagine if all children attended a school like…

2016_April 18_Photo of Frank Hayden new school in BurlingtonDr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario?

Built as part of a community complex, this high school opened its doors in September 2013. As one student wrote in a Burlington Gazette article, “I’m so jealous. I fell asleep in the middle of my math exam in June of 2012. Why did I fall asleep? No air conditioning. Well at Dr. Frank J. Hayden High School they won’t have that problem. They have air-conditioning and I’ve heard it’s absolutely gorgeous. The whole school is new; and new is spectacular!”

Indeed, new is spectacular! While not all Ontario students can attend brand new schools, all Ontario students ought to attend school buildings that are safe, well-maintained and that provide an environment conducive to learning. Let your MPP know that you expect their government to provide sufficient funding to all Ontario’s school boards to address the $15-billion of disrepair that currently exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

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