Monthly Archives: August 2015

How much money will go to repairing and rebuilding Canada’s public schools?

The federal election got really interesting this past week when the Liberals announced they would increase infrastructure funding even if it meant running a deficit for the next three years.

So the question is, “How much federal infrastructure money will go to repairing and rebuilding Canada’s public schools?”

Schools across this country are in an unacceptable state of repair and must be fixed. Federal dollars could help.

According to the Liberal platform, their government would “provide a new, dedicated funding envelope for social infrastructure” and would “prioritize investment in affordable housing and seniors facilities, early learning and child care, and cultural or recreational infrastructure.

hockey arenasSurely, public schools are key social infrastructure in this countryChildcare and early learning most often occurs in public schools so using federal infrastructure money to ensure these buildings are in good condition makes a lot of sense! And, finally, if federal dollars can go towards recreational infrastructure like hockey arenas, surely they can go towards fixing public schools?

key Canadian value is to deliver a quality public education to our children. So remember to ask all federal candidates about allocating federal infrastructure to fixing public schools! 

Will community hubs help to “fix our schools”?

Will community hubs help to fix our schools? This remains to be seen…

This past spring, Kathleen Wynne appointed a nine-person Community Hub Framework Advisory Group, led by Special Advisor Karen Pitre, to review provincial policies and develop a framework for adapting existing public properties to become community hubs. The Advisory Group released “Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan” on August 10. This report candidly points out that “provincial policies and processes are overly complicated, often fragmented and are driven by ministry-specific requirements rather than being viewed through a lens of community needs and outcomes.”

The report outlines many longer-term recommendations to overcome these barriers – such as the creation of a provincial “lead entity” to help build bridges between provincial ministries, municipalities, school boards, health agencies, employers, immigration services and recreation centres – all the players that can be involved in creating a community hub. The report also recommends a short-term strategy for schools for immediate implementation. Although Pitre is clear that “we’re not going to save all schools — this is not a save-the-school strategy”, she did point out that, “we may need a longer planning process, because once a public asset is lost, it’s gone for good.”

The Advisory Group was realistic about what its report could accomplish and urged the Province to consider it the “beginning of a sustained conversation between communities, municipalities, local groups and the Province”.


TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey on Community Hubs

On August 10, the provincially appointed Advisory Group led by Karen Pitre issued a report entitled, “Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan”.

On August 12, the TDSB elected new Chair Robin Pilkey, who made the following comments about the Community Hubs report in her acceptance speech:

Just this week, we have received the report and recommendations of the Premier’s Community Hubs Framework Advisory Group. At first glance, the advisory group seems headed in the right direction. The TDSB has been a leader in creating community hubs in our schools.

But our experience tells us that the promise of community hubs will require radical change in provincial funding to support community services and activities in schools. 

The report is also a reminder to all of our community partners that where and when it makes sense to close or sell a school, the TDSB must receive fair compensation as we continue to face pressing needs to repair our schools and in some cases build more school space where enrolment is booming.

That being said, the TDSB looks forward to participating in the creation of a new provincial framework for the community use of schools.

CTV features growing TDSB repair backlog

CTV featured August 14 as a “sad day for the TDSB” – the day when the repair backlog in its schools grew to exceed $3.5-billion.  Trustee Ken Lister has been tracking the growing repair backlog on his website and CTV felt it was important to highlight this issue (again!) for its viewers to mark this “dubious milestone”. CTV approached Fix Our Schools for photos of disrepair so you may see a photo that you sent to us in the TV clip.

What was not included in the TV clip above were a lot of the details below – which didn’t make it to air!

The Province provides the funding for maintaining schools. Under their watch, $3.5-billion of disrepair has accumulated in TDSB schools and $15-billion of disrepair has accumulated in public schools across the province. Every single one of Ontario’s 72 school boards has a repair backlog.

– While many people blame Principals and Trustees for the disrepair in our schools, the funding for maintaining schools comes from our provincial government. School boards must strive to be as efficient and effective as possible with the money provided by the Province. However, over the past 20 years, there simply has not been sufficient money provided by our provincial government to ensure our public schools are kept in good repair.

In 2014-15, the province provided only $2.27 to the TDSB for every $100 of repairs needed. No matter how efficient or effective a school board is, there is simply no way that $100 of disrepair can be fixed with $2.27!

– For 2015-16, the Province has substantially increased its funding to school boards for maintenance, acknowledging that the $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s public schools is a problem. However, even with this large increase in funding, TDSB Trustees and Staff will have to figure out how to fix $3.5-billion of repairs with about $156-million – the equivalent of less than $5 for every $100 of much-needed repairs. This is clearly an impossible task and so the repair backlog in our children’s schools will continue to grow.

The time is now for the Province to acknowledge public schools as a critical part of our societal infrastructure and start working with school boards to find ongoing, sustainable sources of funding to ensure that children and communities benefit from public schools that are well-maintained.

New TDSB Chair sees collaboration as key

Robin Pilkey, a Professional Chartered Accountant, became Chair of Canada’s largest school board this week. She is optimistic about the TDSB’s ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead and sees collaboration – with TDSB Staff, with the Province, and with parents – as key.

In her acceptance speech on August 12, Pilkey noted that TDSB Trustees have a responsibility to work closely with TDSB Staff to deliver high quality education in a financially responsible manner. Pilkey also mentioned the importance of the TDSB’s relationship with the provincial government, noting that the Province must work with the TDSB to ensure a sustainable financial base for our public education system. The Ward 7 Trustee also noted the importance of parent advocacy, citing the parent-led Fix Our Schools campaign as having made an incredible contribution towards the improvement of provincial funding for school repairs.

Trustees: “Perhaps no political office is more important”

Sachin Maharaj is a PhD student in educational policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto and is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board. She wrote the following opinion piece for the Toronto Star, which was published August 6:

Kim Campbell, Mike Harris, Kathleen Wynne, and Olivia Chow. What do all of these politicians have in common? They are members of a long and ever-growing list of former school trustees who left their school boards for other (some would say higher) political office.

And now you can add Shaun Chen, the chair of the Toronto District School Board, to that list. Chen recently resigned his post as leader of Canada’s largest school board, less than a year after assuming the position, in order to run for the Liberals in the upcoming federal election. And trustees don’t just leave for Ottawa. Both Toronto City Hall and Queen’s Park contain several former school trustees. So why is it that so many people abandon their jobs as school trustees and instead seem to use the position as a political launching pad?

One big reason is that despite being structured by the province as a quasi-volunteer position, being a good school trustee is a lot of work. According to my own recent study, the average school trustee in Ontario spends about 20 hours per week responding to parent concerns, visiting schools, attending parent councils, on top of official board and committee meetings.

In large school boards, like the TDSB, this time commitment extends to over 30 hours per week. But despite requiring the hours of between half to three-quarters of a full-time job, trustees are paid a pittance. The average trustee in Ontario gets paid $11,468, which works out to around minimum wage on an hourly basis. Is it any wonder then that so many leave?

Of course some critics might say that trustees are not expected to subsist on the meagre compensation they receive, but are instead expected to have other full-time employment. But given the time demands of the role, most trustees report that this is “almost impossible.” Indeed, only one-third of school trustees are employed full-time. As one trustee put it, “I could not do this job if I were employed professionally.” Another indicated that they had “left a part time-job due to time commitment as trustee.” And as most of a trustee’s work takes place in the evenings, this can take a toll on family life as well. One trustee sadly recounted, “My children miss me. I rarely see them in the evenings during the week.”

But another reason that many trustees leave is due to increased feelings of impotence, as provincial governments of all stripes have stripped away more and more of their autonomy.

It started when the Harris government removed the ability of school boards to levy tax increases to fund local needs. While this benefited smaller, rural school boards with less ability to raise money, it has been a disaster for the TDSB, which currently faces a repair backlog of over $3 billion. The Wynne government continued this trend of undermining school boards with the introduction of Regulation 274, which removed the ability of boards to hire the best teachers. Indeed, in a recent survey of over 2,000 principals from across Ontario, over 94 per cent stated that Regulation 274 had prevented them from hiring teachers that best meet the needs of their school and its students.

So if we want to attract the highest quality candidates as school trustees, and prevent them from jumping ship, the solution is obvious. We need to pay trustees well, treat them with respect and give them the autonomy they require to best serve the students in their communities.

Then perhaps more people will be school trustees solely because they care about the job, instead of seeing it as a stepping stone. And given that the job of school trustees is overseeing the education of our children, perhaps no political office is more important.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

Right up until the writ dropped this past Sunday, Stephen Harper was doling out money to entice Canada’s electorate, including $150-million for improving public infrastructure such as arenas, parks and community centres through the Canada 150 Infrastructure Program. Now in campaign mode, he made his first big-ticket promise this week – a home renovation tax credit that would cost an estimated $1.5-billion/year by providing a 15% tax credit to homeowners for any renovations worth between $1,000 and $5,000.  moreconfident7-21_0

We, the voters, must ensure that our elected politicians at every level of government prioritize spending to align with our values. In a nutshell, we must ask for what we want.

As a Canadian, you very likely value quality public eduction – and its associated societal and economic benefits. Certainly, if politicians asked, you would tell them that you want to see public schools in a state of good repair for the 5-million Canadian children who spend 6-hours/day in these buildings.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that public schools across this country are crumbling. While there are examples of state-of-the-art public schools, an unacceptable number of public schools across the country need massive repairs. In Ontario schools alone, there are $15-billion of outstanding repairs and in Vancouver, public schools need approximately $1-billion of seismic upgrades to ensure they are safe in case of earthquakes, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding maintenance in public schools across British Columbia

So, as this federal election unfolds and you have an opportunity to speak with candidates, let them know you consider public schools to be a critical element of our societal infrastructure – certainly on par with arenas, community centres and parks but also on par with transit, roads and healthcare. Let federal candidates know  that you want money to be spent on repairing and rebuilding Canada’s public schools. We know that traditionally in Canada, the Federal government hasn’t provided any funding for building or repairing public schools. However, since it seems there is money in the Federal coffers these days, if you value public schools – now is the right time to ask. If you don’t ask – you don’t get!