Monthly Archives: March 2015

Over 20 years to fix our schools at this rate

The provincial government has allocated more money to the TDSB to fix its schools than it has in previous years and Fix Our Schools has been given some credit for this move! The TDSB will receive $112-million for “school condition renewal” in 2015-16. This represents a significant increase from the $29-million the TDSB received from Kathleen Wynne’s government this school year and, perhaps, is a small acknowledgment of past underfunding.

So, funding for fixing TDSB schools is heading in the right direction. If we take the $112-million being provided via the Grant for School Condition Improvement and add this to the expected $45.5-million being provided via the annual grant for school renewal, we are looking at a total of $157.5-million/year for the TDSB to fix its schools.

However, at this new level of funding, the current $3.3-billion repair backlog (recently revised from $3-billion based on provincial data) plaguing TDSB schools would take almost 21 years to address. And this, of course, assumes that nothing else goes wrong in a TDSB school for the next two decades. The truth, of course, is that the longer we take to address these repairs, the more complicated and costly they become so we seem to be in a conundrum of never getting ahead of this massive repair backlog.

So while we are thrilled that the provincial government has allocated more money this coming year for the TDSB to fix its schools, we are disappointed that Kathleen Wynne’s government refuses to take accountability for finding a complete funding solution to this massive issue that impacts 247,000 students.

Public Schools in same pickle as Toronto Community Housing

While reading this blog post, please keep in mind that Toronto Public Schools are facing an eerily similar challenge to that being faced by Toronto Community Housing. There is a $3-billion repair backlog plaguing TDSB schools that must be addressed immediately. However, the provincial government – the sole funder of public schools in Ontario – refuses to take accountability for this massive issue. As you read the remainder of this blog post, keep in mind that the combined repairs needed in TDSB schools and in Toronto Community Housing units exceeds $10-billion. We are on a scary trajectory if these billions of dollars of repairs aren’t addressed – and soon.

On March 30, John Tory and Toronto Community Housing revealed a plan to address the $1.7-billion of additional funding required to address the $7.5-billion of repairs required in Toronto’s Community Housing units over the next 30 years. This plan’s success hinges on the federal and provincial governments funding a large part of these repairs. In his column in the Star, Edward Keenan suggests this is unlikely. He estimates that for the City to take on the additional $1.7-billion required for repairs would require a dedicated property tax increase of 3% for the next 30 years.

Keenan agrees with John Tory’s argument that “the moral and business cases illustrated by this study make a bullet-proof case for why the Ontario and federal governments should invest now to repair housing.” However, Keenan points out that while the moral and business cases for supporting social housing have been clear for a long time, higher levels of government have continued to download responsibility and accountability for this important public good.

Keenan suggests that if Torontonians do not take on the responsibility to fund these repairs and the higher levels of government also refuse, then Toronto Community Housing units will crumble around the existing tenants, many units will be closed as they become uninhabitable and those tenants will be forced into a private housing market where they might become homeless.

Toronto Public Schools are in the same predicament. Schools are starting to crumble around students and teachers. Will we close schools as they become uninhabitable and force parents to send their children to private schools? Ideally, the province and feds need to step up and start funding public schools as an integral part of our public infrastructure. The province, in particular, which holds all the power over funding at the moment, must start working with the TDSB and the City to figure out funding solutions to ensure that students attend school in safe, well-maintained buildings. While heartening to see the City so engaged in these issues, it is equally disheartening to see Kathleen Wynne’s government so disengaged in real discussions on funding.


Buildings continue to deteriorate as TDSB governance reviewed

Back in March 2008, when Kathleen Wynne was Minister of Education, she gave the TDSB Trustees two months to figure out a better governance structure for the TDSB. Wynne said that in the 10 years since the provincial government had mandated the amalgamation of six school boards to create Canada’s largest school board, the TDSB hadn’t managed to “come together properly”. Seven years later, this same provincial government apparently still hasn’t figured out a governance solution that works for Canada’s largest school board.

On March 16, 2015, Kathleen Wynne’s government announced that it had appointed a seven member advisory panel to make recommendations on how to improve the governance structure at the TDSB. This advisory panel is to conduct public consultations from March-May 2015 and, based on these consultations, make recommendations on governance changes by Summer 2015.

So for the last seven years, this Liberal provincial government has failed to make the governance changes required for the TDSB to “come together properly”, has continued to ignore funding as a potential root cause of many TDSB issues, and has allowed the repair backlog in TDSB schools to accumulate to $3.3-billion. In failing to take accountability for finding funding solutions to address the $3.3-billion repair backlog that plagues TDSB schools, this provincial government has ignored the safety and well-being of the 246,000 students who attend school at the TDSB. 

This Liberal provincial government has been in power since 2003. They are the sole funder of public education in this province and also hold power over all major policy decisions. Enough is enough – the almost 13% of Ontario’s students who attend school at the TDSB deserve to learn in safe, well-maintained buildings. When is this provincial government going to take the accountability that is commensurate with the power they currently have over public education and make decisions that enable fixing our schools?



Why does public transit trump public schools?

Public transit is a hot topic in urban centres across the nation.  Sadly, public education is not.

In Ontario, public transit in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was a key issue in both the provincial election in June and Toronto’s municipal election in October. There was much discussion on transit solutions that ought to be pursued and how those solutions should be funded.

In B.C., public transit has also been in the spotlight. Mayors in the Greater Vancouver Area (GVQ) have been working together to raise awareness of the need for transit improvements in the GVA. They’ve been actively encouraging citizens to vote yes in the upcoming special plebiscite vote asking citizens if they would pay 0.5% more in provincial sales tax to fund better transit in the region.

Despite the fact that public schools in both Toronto and Vancouver are in need of billions of dollars of repairs, this issue has received scant attention in Ontario’s recent elections and no plebiscite vote is in the works to decide how to fund public school repairs in Vancouver.

Toronto’s public schools need over $3-billion of repairs, many of which are urgent, including: fire suppression and alarm systems; electrical systems; heating/cooling systems; and structural issues. If these types of items fail before repairs can be done, there is a risk to student safety. Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government blames the TDSB for this unacceptable repair backlog, even though the Province is the sole funder of public schools in Ontario and the repair backlog has accumulated under the watch of the Province.

Vancouver’s public schools need $2.2-billion* of seismic upgrades to prevent collapse in the case of earthquakes. Christy Clark’s provincial government has delayed funding these repairsbut blames the Vancouver School Board for the delay even though the Province is the sole funder of public schools in B.C.

So we have a situation where public schools in two major Canadian cities are in need of massive repairs that could, potentially, impact the safety of students. Neither provincial governments seem interested in finding funding solutions to fix these problems and, instead, blame local school boards for the disrepair even though these school boards have no power over funding. Students are being penalized by the inability of the grown-ups in charge to take accountability and find solutions. As citizens and voters, we must start making the issue of public schools a hot topic and demanding more from our provincial governments. Students deserve to learn in safe, well-maintained buildings and, since they can’t vote yet, we need to demand that for them.

*According to VSB Trustees, the number as at September 2015 is closer to $1-billion in seismic upgrades.

New funding solutions needed for public schools

The TDSB will receive only $74.9-million from the Province this year to take care of its buildings; an amount that would pay for only 2.3% of the $3.3-billion of repairs plaguing TDSB schools. To take care of the entire $3.3-billion repair backlog in TDSB schools, $13,414 of funding must be found for each of the 246,000 TDSB students.

The Province insists the TDSB must fund the repair backlog by selling schools. However, the Province’s math doesn’t add up! Even if the TDSB immediately sells all 130 “empty” schools, there would still be over $1-billion of repairs in the remaining 458 schools.

Kathleen Wynne’s government must start working with the TDSB and the City to secure other funding solutions to address the unacceptable state of disrepair in TDSB schools.

The Province is exploring issuing equity in Hydro One to raise billions of dollars for new transit. The City approved a property tax increase, including a special 0.5% levy to pay for the Scarborough subway. At the City budget meeting on March 11, a motion was also made to explore reinstating the $60 car registration tax. Unfortunately, the TDSB has no power to pursue funding solutions such as these.

Surely, the Province and City believe that public schools are as integral to our public infrastructure as transit and will help secure the required funding to ensure TDSB students attend school in safe, well-maintained buildings?

Davisville Public School

2015_02_28_Davisville PSDavisville P.S. has the second highest (meaning second worst) “Facility Condition Index” score in the TDSB. Davisville’s score is 169 with an estimated $12-million+ of outstanding repairs, including the boiler and foundation. According to the Provincial government, a score of 65 or higher means that it makes mores sense to replace the school building than to repair it.

The photo here depicts the visible disrepair in a classroom ceiling at the school. However, there are outstanding repairs that cannot be seen or photographed – such as the boiler and foundation. Although deemed safe and usable, the outstanding repairs cause regular inconvenience to students, teachers and staff (the caretakers at Davisville work tirelessly doing the best job they can given the state of the building!).

This year, Davisville operates at 104% utilization with 459 students. By 2019, the school is expected to operate at 142% utilization with 630 students because of new development being planned and built in the immediate neighbourhood. Davisville is located in Ward 11 just north of the Davisville subway stop on the Yonge line. The vast majority of schools in Ward 11, including all 3 secondary schools, are operating above 100% utilization.

The TDSB has been collaborating with parents, community members and other stakeholders since 2010 to explore options for redeveloping the Davisville P.S. school site as a Community Hub to address the state of disrepair and overcrowding. The TDSB submitted their cost-effective redevelopment proposal for Davisville P.S. as one of eight TDSB priority capital projects to the Ministry of Education in December 2012. It is notable that every school board in Ontario, regardless of size, was allowed to submit 8 projects.

In March 2014, the Ministry announced that TDSB schools only received funding for one project, receiving $11.9-million out of the $700 million (1.7%) allocated by the Ministry at that time. The Province did not approve the Davisville P.S. redevelopment proposal, despite an economically sound proposal that involved selling off land to create a community hub.

Determined to see the redevelopment of this site as community hub, the Davisville parent community continues to work with the TDSB, the community and other stakeholders.



TDSB pursuing Community Hubs – why isn’t the Province?

The TDSB has been collaborating with parents, community members and other stakeholders since 2010 to explore options for redeveloping the Davisville P.S. school site as a Community Hub. By mid-2012, they had arrived at a redevelopment strategy that offers a realistic, cost-effective approach to building a new school and community hub. This plan involved selling about one quarter of the school’s land, moving parking to underneath a new school and keeping the same amount of playground and field space.

Why would the TDSB spend money on building a new school/community hub?

1. Replacing Davisville P.S. makes more economic sense than repairing it. As of a few years back, Davisville P.S. had over $8-million of outstanding repairs, including the boiler and foundation. This figure may now be in excess of $12 million and will continue to grow as deferred repairs become more complex and costly to fix.

Davisville P.S. has the second highest (meaning second worst) Facility Condition Index score in the TDSB. The Ontario government’s “Prohibitive to Repair” score is 65, which means that any school with a score above 65 would be better to replace than to repair. Davisville P.S. has a score of 169.

2. A larger school is needed to accommodate current and projected enrolment. School capacity at Davisville P.S. was, until recently, 384 students by provincial standards. After the reconfiguration of some spaces to provide more kindergarten classrooms and other measurement changes, the school’s capacity was increased to be 512 students. In reality, no more square footage was added to the building or the outdoor play space so the decrease in utilization rate that was seen this past year doesn’t mean the school is actually less crowded.

With 538 students currently enrolled and a projected enrolment of over 700 students by 2019, this school is bursting at the seams.

3. The area around Davisville P.S. has few public amenities. With a new school building, community space could be integrated into the plans to benefit the entire community and could partially fund the redevelopment.

So, we have the TDSB working with the community to develop a community hub strategy that could be cost-effectively implemented…

How has the Ministry of Education responded?

The TDSB submitted Davisville as one of eight priority capital projects to the Ministry of Education in December 2012. It is notable that every school board in Ontario, regardless of size, was allowed to submit 8 projects.

In March 2014, the Ministry announced the approval and funding of capital projects across the province. TDSB schools only received funding for one project, receiving $11.9-million out of the $700 million (1.7%) allocated by the Ministry at that time. Given that the TDSB educates approximately 12% of Ontario students, this means that the TDSB received six times less than would have been the case if the funds had been allocated on a per-student basis across the province.

The Province did not approve the Davisville P.S. redevelopment proposal, despite an economically sound proposal that involved selling off land to create a community hub. Hmmm… so when the Province speaks about “Schools as Community Hubs” – how do they envision these happening?

Excerpted from the Davisville Parents website

Humber Journalism covers Fix Our Schools

Humber journalism student Alex Karageorgos contacted Fix Our Schools to discuss the Province’s proposal to sell TDSB schools to fund over $3-billion of repairs. Here is an excerpt of what appeared in, a breaking news website that features the works of Humber journalism students. Click here for the whole, entitled: “Board Review Looming Over Public Secondary Schools”:

The parent perspective

Between schoolyard provincial regulations and municipal amendments, parents are usually stuck in the middle, playing possum.

The Board has been facing an estimated $3.5-billion repair backlog and this property sale is an attempt to raise funds for the shortfall. Due to the capital project the Ontario government placed upon the TDSB, local trustees have already agreed to sell 20 closed locations. This included former high school Sir Sanford Fleming, which could later be occupied by childcare facilities and private schools.

This TDSB deficit, which goes beyond secondary schools, jumpstarted a grassroots parent advocacy group that was created solely on the premise of bringing awareness to poor public school building conditions.

“We were heartened by the province getting more involved,” says Krista Wylie, Fix Our Schools. “We feel like the province and the TDSB have been at loggerheads for over a decade, where one just blames the other.”

Wylie, a parent of two students enrolled at TDSB schools, is aware of the trials and tribulations that come with lobbying various levels of government for educational reform. The constant back-and-forth amongst the two parties has come with a price: seldom does any task get completed.

“The government can find money if there is a political will to do so and for too long its been under-funding public education,” says Wylie. “We think our kids are going to school in buildings that are falling apart and are, in many cases, in such a state of disrepair that they are becoming unsafe.”

Community Hubs are tricky business – Province needs a proper plan

At Queen’s Park on Feb. 19, Garfield Dunlop, Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe North asserted that the “Liberal Provincial government has watched enrolment decline for the last decade, and instead of having a proper plan to make sure schools flourish as community hubs, they will now force boards to close schools and try to balance the Liberal budget on the backs of students.”

Community Hubs are tricky business as is evidenced by this thoughtful series of essays about The School as Community Hub, edited by David Clandfield and George Martell. Creating Community Hubs requires both an overarching plan and an ability for many Ministries to work effectively together and with school boards and municipal governments. A tall order… but one worthy of pursuit by our Provincial government.