Monthly Archives: May 2015

Fix Our Schools subscriber’s submission to TDSB Governance Panel

One of our Fix Our Schools subscribers sent us the letter she wrote to Barbara Hall’s TDSB Governance Panel. Her letter raises excellent concerns and we’d like to share with you:

“Large” should not be confused with “challenging” or “problematic”. When an institution has good organizational structure, governance, and resources – the size of the institution is irrelevant.  I would strongly urge the Ministry NOT to break up the TDSB into smaller boards.  (Rumour in education circles suggests that the Ministry is seeking to divide the TDSB into four separate boards with an umbrella organization at the helm). There are several serious problems with this concept:

1. The Toronto City-School Boards Advisory committee is seeking to work with the TDSB in finding viable solutions to retain under-enrolled schools as community hubs, green space,  or some form of public use. This is extremely important as city density intensifies.  Breaking up the TDSB will only serve to make this collaboration complex, costly, and inefficient.

2. The TDSB renewal backlog of $3.3-billion and the total renewal backlog across all Ontario public schools of $14.7-billion indicates that current capital funding for public schools from the Province is insufficient. In order to address the backlog of repairs in public schools – it is inevitable that the provincial funding formula must change and other sources of funding must be found. There is no alternative but to access education development charges and also property taxes. Given the vast differences in new development and taxation opportunities across the city of Toronto, one school board ensures uniform access to these revenue sources.

3. The TDSB is making progress in implementing constructive improvements to its operating procedures. To dismantle the board at this time would be a massive setback on all levels. First – it would be a huge expenditure – at a time when the provincial government, the city, and the TDSB are struggling with serious deficits. The staff at TDSB (particularly Planning and Facilities) has spent enormous time and energy on research reports dealing with critical, time-sensitive issues including school closures and repair backlogs. Decentralizing this research and distributing it to new, inexperienced staff undermines the timeliness and ultimately, the relevance of this research.

The TDSB can work. It needs a solid governance model that Trustees can look to for guidance. It needs a sound organizational structure – so that staff can work efficiently with the ability to execute. And most importantly, it needs proper funding.

And finally, with respect to school closures: It is far more likely that trustees, parents, and communities will support school closures when there is an opportunity to transform “under enrolled” schools into important community spaces. The current dysfunctional system is a major contributor to bad decision-making, procrastination, and frustration for all stakeholders. There is an opportunity to create win-win options for communities under the mandate of the City-School Boards Advisory Committee – and Premier Wynne needs to support this initiative. It is in everyone’s best interest.  Thank you.

Please don’t split up the TDSB!

In the municipal election of Fall 2014, Toronto voters sent a clear message to the TDSB by voting in eleven new Trustee. Exactly half of the 22 members of the board of Canada’s largest school board are new to holding this important yet part-time position. This new board of Trustees is taking steps to improve governance, even without waiting for the findings of Barbara Hall’s TDSB Governance Panel. For instance, they are creating an independent Office of Integrity Commissioner at the TDSB. By all accounts, they are also developing effective working relationships with TDSB Staff.

So, please Barbara Hall, as outlined in the letter sent by Fix Our Schools on May 26, 2015 to you and your fellow panel members, don’t split up the TDSB into smaller boards now.


Feds fund public infrastructure – are public schools included?

“Curling rinks, arenas, walking trails and bike routes, theatres and community halls in small towns and big cities alike, these are places where people come together. They are literally the beating hearts of the communities we live in.”

Stephen Harper’s quote above suggests how the new Canada 150 infrastructure plan might be spent to benefit Canadians. Earlier this month, Harper announced that $150-million will be spent over the coming two years to support existing community and cultural infrastructure across the country as one way of marking Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Public schools across the country are in a state of disrepair and surely also serve as the “beating hearts of the communities we live in”. Yet public schools are notably absent in any lists of potential projects that could be approved for this Canada 150 infrastructure plan.

Hmmm…those who see this infrastructure spend as merely a pre-election PR tactic might say that public school children aren’t voters yet so why would the Feds bother spending money on them leading up to the Fall election?


Principals are curriculum leaders – not boiler specialists!

Disrepair in public schools means that Principals and Vice Principals spend time and energy on repair issues that ought to be spent leading their schools. Principals and Vice Principals at many public schools end up spending several hours each week managing repairs at their schools and fielding complaints from parents about the disrepair. These are hours that could be much better spent. Principals ought to be curriculum leaders – not boiler specialists!

Unfortunately, most people blame Principals and Trustees for disrepair in their child’s school. However, the Province has only allocated $74.9-million to the TDSB this school year to address a $3.3-billion repair backlog. Even the most efficient and functional school board in the world couldn’t address a $3.3-billion problem when given an amount that equals only 2.3% of the amount required to address the problem. So by all means let your Principal and Trustee know about disrepair in your child’s school but direct your call to action to your MPP, Premier Wynne and Education Minister Sandals. Let them know that:

Art Eggleton admits funding key issue in repairing Toronto community housing

Former Toronto mayor and current Senator, Art Eggleton, was appointed by Toronto Mayor John Tory to lead a six-person task force to investigate issues facing Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC). When Senator Eggleton was interviewed on May 11 by Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, he candidly admitted that finding funding solutions was the key issue in making the $2.5-billion of repairs that must happen in the coming decade in TCHC housing units.

It is hard not to draw a comparison between the disrepair plaguing Toronto Community Housing that found in Toronto public schools. The TDSB alone faces a $3.3-billion repair backlog that is estimated will grow to $4.36-billion by 2017, given the current level of provincial funding.

However, the similarities end when we compare Art Eggleton’s TCHC Task Force with that of Barbara Hall, who is leading the latest TDSB task force – this one charged with investigating TDSB governance. Unlike Art Eggleton, the TDSB Governance Panel will not acknowledge that funding is a key issue for the TDSB and ignores the role the Province plays in the overall governance model for public education in this province. Maybe 246,000 students and their families would have been better served by Senator Art Eggleton’s approach? Only time will tell I suppose, as we track the state of disrepair in Toronto Community Housing along with that of Toronto’s public schools.

Per-student repair backlog makes urgency clear

All 72 Ontario school boards currently have a repair backlog, ranging from $7.4-million at Huron-Perth CDSB to $3.3-billion at the TDSB. On a per-student basis, the TDSB’s repair backlog breaks down to over $13,000/student. Ottawa-Carleton DSB, Thames Valley DSB and Greater Essex County DSB aren’t far behind with a repair backlog per-student of approximately $10,000 in each of these three Ontario school boards.

Issued in October 2014, “Reversing the Cycle of Deterioration in the Nation’s Public School Buildings” is a report on the impact of deferred maintenance in American public school buildings.  It reveals that, as of 2010, the average repair backlog per-student in American schools was $4,883 and that this reflected a situation in need of serious and immediate attention.

We’ve cited 4 school boards in Ontario that currently face a per student repair backlog more than double the American average. Kathleen Wynne – are you there? Your government must acknowledge this situation is unacceptable and untenable. Finding funding solutions to fix our schools deserves a place on your government’s agenda!

What funding is needed to maintain our schools?

In October 2014, a report studying the impact of deferred maintenance in American schools found that, “…school districts, financially squeezed over long periods of time, made economic decisions that reduced the most cost-effective types of maintenance work. The results of those decisions to ‘save money’ will, in the long term, actually increase the amount of frequency of much more expensive breakdown repair and replacement work.”

The TDSB is living this reality at the moment, as is evidenced by a May 2015 Staff Report on the TDSB’s Renewal Needs Backlog. With a current repair backlog of $3.3-billion and provincial funding totalling only $74.9-million in 2014-15 and $156-million in 2015-16, the repair backlog is expected to grow to $4.36-billion by 2017. In an environment where the TDSB is receiving a fraction of the money needed to address its repair backlog, TDSB Facilities Services staff is unable to carry out much preventative maintenance because it is consumed with reacting to emergency repairs as these occur. The report referenced above, entitled, “Reversing the Cycle of Deterioration in the Nation’s Public School Buildings”, (RCD) found that reactive work orders cost approximately 173% more to implement than preventative maintenance work orders.

The RCD report suggests that between 2-4% of the total replacement value of all schools needs to be allocated annually for maintenance, if buildings are to be kept in a good state of repair. The replacement value of TDSB schools is estimated to be $7.4-billion, as calculated by the Ministry of Education. If an amount totalling 3% of this total replacement value were allocated annually to take care of maintaining TDSB buildings, that amount would be $222-million. Keep in mind, that this amount does not address any existing repair backlog due to deferred maintenance – only year-to-year routine maintenance.

So at the TDSB, we have a situation where funding must be found to address the $3-3-billion repair backlog that is expected to grow to $4.36-billion by 2017. As well, additional funding must be found to simply take care of the routine maintenance associated with taking care of TDSB school buildings each year. Given the Provincial allocation of $74.9-million this year is $147.1-million short of what is required and that amount is also meant to take care of the repair backlog, we have a big problem on our hands.

TDSB allowed to submit same eight proposals as all school boards

The intent of the provincial funding formula for public education is to ensure all students in Ontario are treated equitably. However, sometimes treating school boards and students the same doesn’t translate into treating them equitably.

For instance, consider how the Province determines approval and funding of building new schools and building additions on existing schools. Each of Ontario’s 72 school boards, regardless of size, is permitted to submit to the Ministry of Education eight proposals for new building projects. The TDSB is the largest school board in Canada, with 246,000 students and 588 school buildings. Almost one-quarter of its buildings operate at 100% utilization or greater, meaning that 146 TDSB schools are crowded and provide sub-optimal learning environments. However, with a process that treats the TDSB the exact same as Peel DSB, the second largest school board in Ontario with 246 schools and 154,000 students, and Huron-Perth CDSB, the smallest school board in Ontario with 18 schools and 4,000 students, it begs the question whether all students and school boards are treated equitably if they are treated the same.

Addressing crowded TDSB schools calls for out-of-the-box solutions

146 TDSB schools operate at 100% utilization or greater, where classrooms and outdoor play spaces are crowded. Kew Beach Junior Public School, for example, operates at 143% utilization. The Principal at this school says that student injuries have become commonplace and kindergarten students aren’t allowed outside at lunch time for safety reasons. To address the crowded school yard at Kew Beach Junior Public School, a land deal has been struck between the TDSB and the City of Toronto, which owns a 1.5 hectare park adjacent to Kew Beach Public School.

Some community members are upset about being deprived a public park for part of the day. However, the TDSB does not receive significant funding from the Province for alleviating overcrowding in schools and schoolyards, since provincial utilization rates show that there are spaces available at TDSB schools (even if those spaces aren’t located nearby the overcrowded schools!). Hence, this “out-of-the-box” solution has been created, which provides a safer schoolyard for Kew Beach students but prevents local residents from accessing their local park during school hours. The province says outside-the-box solutions shouldn’t be necessary. However, Kew Beach is the latest school to disagree.

As local City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said, “The TDSB is under the gun” and “we’ve just got to get into the mentality and state of mind of sharing.” Despite the Province’s opinion, “out-of-the-box” solutions for dealing with space pressures will likely become more common.

Selling under-utilized schools to generate funding is a long, complicated process

A year ago, the TDSB declared Bloor Collegiate Institute and Kent Senior Public School, both located on three hectares of land at the corner of Bloor and Dufferin, to be surplus. The Toronto Catholic District School Board made an offer last April, 2014 to buy these two TDSB properties. However, as of April 2015, Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government had not yet instructed the TDSB whether to accept or reject the Catholic school board’s offer. Odd that when the Province is pressuring the TDSB to sell under-utilized properties to generate funding, the Province’s response wouldn’t be more timely?

Meanwhile, in March 2015, Kathleen Wynne launched a Community Hubs Advisory Group, led by Karen Pitre. By April 2015, in the absence of direction from Province, the TDSB placed a hold on plans to sell the two schools and is, instead, going to investigate using these schools to create a community hub. The hope is that partners come with funding and that this scenario can be used as a model for the the Province, City and school boards to develop additional community hubs. While this decision to pursue using these schools as community hubs seems to align with Kathleen Wynne’s stated mandate to create community hubs, there appears to be no firm statement of support for this decision from the Minister of Education, with spokesperson Nilani Logeswaran saying only that, “the ministry is aware of the conversation the board has started and is awaiting the outcome“. And, even as the TDSB pursues a solution that aligns with Kathleen Wynne’s mandate of community hubs – you can bet that no exception in the utilization rate calculations has been extended to the TDSB for these properties and so, Bloor Collegiate Institute and Kent Senior Public School continue to count against the TDSB as “empty space”.

All this to say that the Province’s suggested solution that the TDSB must sell under-utilized schools to generate money to repair schools is fairly complicated and takes a long time! Meanwhile, a $3.3-billion repair backlog is getting larger with each day that passes.