From Spencer Higdon-McGreal, Grade 12 TDSB Student at Ursula Franklin:
In school there are many things students learn to adapt to: peer pressure, the stress of looming deadlines, the anticipation of summer break and, trying to stay focused while your school is crumbling around you. For many students in the Toronto District School Board, decay and subsequent lack of working mechanics, electronics, structure is known all too well. As a grade 12 student, I have been in three different schools over a span of 14 years: Garden Ave. P.S. for JK-Grade 6, Fern Ave. P.S. for Grade 7-8 and Ursula Franklin Academy for Grades 9-12. I’ve seen first-hand how desperately our schools need repairs.
For the past four years at my high school I cannot remember a winter when our boiler didn’t break at least once, sometimes for multiple days, leaving students freezing and unable to focus. Now this is a big enough problem on its own, but when I add the fact that this happened almost every winter over my 14 years at school it become inexcusable! I remember a couple of years ago sitting in a classroom with every student and the teacher, wearing their outdoor winter clothing. No one was able to focus during the whole class – we certainly struggled to take notes while wearing gloves!
School should be a second home to students, not a place where boilers break down, ceilings fall in, and toilets break! Today’s students are tomorrow’s future leaders and contributors, and they need and deserve the best education they can get. With the enormous amount of problems in our schools, students aren’t given the best. The Ontario government can do better, and must do better.
Barry Steinberg is CEO of the Consulting Engineers of Ontario, which represents the interests of 200 engineering firms. He offered the following insight about how Ontario can successfully meet our future infrastructure needs in a recent Globe & Mail editorial:
“Successfully meeting Ontario’s infrastructure needs will only happen as a result of sound planning supported by consistent investment from dedicated revenue streams, not on a project-to-project basis.”
Fix Our Schools sent the following letter to the TDSB Governance Panel on Monday, July 13:
Dear TDSB Governance Panel,
We continue to be concerned that the TDSB Governance Panel did not consider how provincial funding and provincial policies impact the governance of the TDSB. Upon reading the scathing review of Donna Quan’s leadership by Margaret Wilson, among others, in Friday’s Globe & Mail, we are also concerned that the TDSB Governance consultations did not examine the important role that leadership plays in TDSB’s governance. Instead, the TDSB Governance consultations focused primarily on the role of TDSB Trustees and the size of the TDSB.
Given these concerns, we are anxious to hear your panel’s recommendations. Could you kindly let us know the date when you plan to issue those recommendations to Minister Sandals?
The Fix Our Schools campaign represents a large and growing number of parents in Toronto who want to see safe, well-maintained public schools. Of course, these same parents are also interested in good governance. However, every one of Ontario’s 72 public school boards has a capital repair backlog for a total of $14.7-billion, which suggests that something in the overall governance of public education in this province is simply not working and that additional funding sources must be found.
We trust that any recommendations made by the TDSB Governance Panel will:
• get to the heart of the issues at the TDSB
• respect the fact that this new board of Trustees has had scant time to actually govern
• keep the best interests of TDSB students and families in mind
Krista Wylie – On Behalf of Fix Our Schools
Fix Our Schools will keep subscribers posted on what we hear back from the TDSB Governance Panel about their recommendations.
The TDSB is in the news again. On July 10, the Globe and Mail published an article in which TDSB Director Donna Quan was accused of “ruling by fear” and of engaging in “destructive attacks against Trustees”. The source for many of these accusations appears to have been Margaret Wilson, who was brought in by the Province over six months ago to investigate the TDSB because the Education Minister was concerned about a “culture of fear” among staff.
In case you haven’t been following the goings-on between the Province and the TDSB since late November 2014, here is a “Coles Notes” version:
- Nov. 2014: Former TDSB Chair Mari Rutka requests provincial intervention, alleging that TDSB Director Donna Quan was preventing Trustees from investigating controversial payments and partnerships; and that the Director was not providing a copy of her employment contract to them.
- Nov. 25, 2014: Education Minister Liz Sandals appointed Margaret Wilson to investigate the TDSB, worried about a “culture of fear” and “dysfunction” at Canada’s largest school board.
- Jan. 15, 2015: Margaret Wilson submits her report on the TDSB to Minister Sandals, confirming a “culture of fear” and “dysfunction” at the TDSB.
- Jan. 15, 2015: Minister Sandals issues thirteen directives to the newly elected TDSB Trustees, giving them less than a month to comply.
- Feb. 11, 2015: TDSB Trustees submit their report to Minister Sandals, addressing the thirteen directives she had given to them.
- Mar. 16, 2015: Margaret Wilson’s report prompts the provincial government to set up the TDSB Governance Panel to consult with the TDSB community and make recommendations to the Minister of Education on how to improve the governance structure at TDSB.
- July 10, 2015: Globe and Mail article published, outlining Margaret Wilson’s accusations of the TDSB’s Director, “It’s rule by fear. You pick people off, one by one, which is what classic bullies do.”
- July 13, 2015: Awaiting recommendations from the TDSB Governance Panel, which ran consultations focused on the role that Trustees and the size of the TDSB play in the board’s governance but which did not examine the role that leadership, provincial policies and provincial funding play in governance.
As parents, we want to see a quality education for our children delivered in safe, well-maintained schools. The Province holds power over the funding and all major policies impacting public education in this province. The Province has engaged in a multitude of short-term interventions with the TDSB in recent years, none of which seem to have had significant positive results. As we await the recommendations from the TDSB Governance Panel – the Province’s latest intervention in the TDSB – we, yet again, urge Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals to take the accountability that is commensurate with the power their government has over public education and to start to work with the TDSB to Fix Our Schools.
In 1997, Mike Harris introduced the provincial funding formula in Ontario, which gave the Province the power over the funding of public education. Economist Hugh Mackenzie has been studying this education funding formula since its inception. He has written several scathing reports on the formula.
In Mackenzie’s latest report, he emphasizes that students from across Ontario have been shortchanged by the Province for almost two decades. He also highlights the issue of accountability in the provincial funding formula, stating that while the Province holds power over the allocation of funds, the Province is not held accountable for the adequacy of the funding it provides to the education system as whole in Ontario. Mackenzie states, “Even Mike Harris recognized that provincial funding created an accountability gap, and committed to a five-year review cycle. Eighteen years later, the Eves government’s 2002 review is the only one we’ve had.”
With great power comes great responsibility…
In October 2005, TDSB Staff wrote and presented “Schools for the Future: A 10 Year Facility Infrastructure Plan for the TDSB”, which painted a dire picture of the state of disrepair in TDSB schools and even suggested that schools may need to close due to disrepair.
Sections 2.2.1 & 2.2.2 of this report, “Current and Forecast Conditions of TDSB Facilities”, read as follows: “Putting off necessary renewal projects, year in and year out, has created a growing and costly backlog. There’s an increasing demand for facility maintenance and repairs as a result of deteriorating facility conditions. The numbers of calls for emergencies and unanticipated breakdowns are increasing. Requests for repairs account for 80% of work orders, while preventive maintenance now represents only 20% of work orders. The normal average wait time for maintenance requests is seven weeks. The Ministry of Education recognized the need for additional funding to correct deficiencies in building conditions. Increased funding for building renewal was distributed through a Ministry program called ‘Good Places to Learn.’ This renewal funding only temporarily halted the trend of deteriorating facility conditions. At the current level (2005) of renewal funding of $44 million annually, the condition of TDSB buildings will continue to decline rapidly, making it increasingly difficult to keep schools open.”
Almost ten years have passed since this report was prepared and TDSB schools continue to deteriorate. Although provincial funding for school repairs has increased since 2005 to $75-million/year for 2014/15 and will increase to $156-million in the 2015/16 school year, the money received by the TDSB to address the $3.3-billion of disrepair in its schools is still insufficient. To date, no TDSB schools have closed due to safety issues but one wonders what the next ten years will hold.