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Media Release at Queen’s Park

On November 14, 2017, we joined forces with the Campaign for Public Education for a media conference at Queen’s Park where economist Hugh Mackenzie revealed his latest report on the deterioration of Ontario’s schools.

Mackenzie’s report confirmed that current provincial funding of $1.4 billion per year for school repairs is simply not enough to make up for the 20 years that provincial funding was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been. In fact, the report highlights that with current funding levels, there has been an increase in disrepair in Ontario’s schools over the past year to an appalling $15.9 billion. 

Mackenzie goes on to suggest that a minimum $3 billion per year in provincial funding for capital funding for schools is needed to maintain, repair and rebuild Ontario’s schools and get these important public assets to an acceptable standard. He breaks down the funding as follows:

  • Continue current level of School Condition Index (SCI) funding of $1 billion per year to specifically target eliminating the repair backlog; this $1 billion per year should end only when the backlog is gone. So no increase in SCI funding.
  • Increase annual School Renewal Allocation (SRA) funding from $357 million to $1.7 billion per year, the midpoint of the industry suggested standard of 2-4% of replacement value of assets in question.  So at 3% of the value of Ontario’s schools, we’d expect to see an increase of $1.35 billion per year from current SRA funding levels. 
  • Create a separate stream of capital funding to replace the 346 school buildings across the province determined to be too expensive to repair as of the most recent provincial review cycle. This will require a one-time capital injection estimated at $3.9 billion, which could be amortized over 40 years, a new expense of $100 million per year.

In addition, Mackenzie states that the current formula for determining each schools’ operational maintenance budget must be fixed and increased by 8.7% to meet North American standards. This would mean an increase $165 million per year from $1.9 billion per year to 2.1 billion per year.

Net is an increase of $1.45 billion for capital funding for schools – so a DOUBLING of the current $1.4 billion total of SCI + SRA funding. Plus an increase of $165 million for operational maintenance budgets. 

While this is a lot of money, delay is not helpful. Repairs in Ontario’s schools are only going to get more expensive if we do not collectively take the steps NOW to truly Fix Our Schools.

NDP asks tough questions of Premier

On November 14, 2017, we co-hosted a media conference at Queen’s Park releasing economist Hugh Mackenzie’s latest report about the deterioration of Ontario’s schools. Mackenzie confirmed that even with increased capital funding for schools, the disrepair is continuing to grow and now stands at an appalling $15.9 billion. 

Our media conference and the Mackenzie’s report generated some great discussion in the Legislature between NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Premier Wynne and Education Minister Hunter. Following is a copy of the official Hansard relative to school facilities from November 14, 2017:

School facilities

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. Schools in Ontario need $15.9 billion worth of repairs just to get them to decent standards for our children. That’s a very big number, with very big consequences. In the summer, that number means kids are in the classrooms sweating in their seats because schools can’t afford air conditioning on hot days. In the winter, which is upon us, it means a second-grader, for example, trying to focus on her math test while fumbling with her winter gloves and parka because the heat is broken yet again at the school. We have to do better for our children in this province. Why did the Premier allow this $15.9-billion school repair backlog to get so bad?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let’s just look at the facts of what has happened over the last number of years, Mr. Speaker. First of all, we inherited a system that was seriously degraded. As I’ve said in this House and elsewhere, one of the reasons that I am in provincial politics is because of the policies of the previous government that allowed our publicly funded education system to degrade, in the classroom and outside of the classroom. That’s why I’m here; that’s why many of us are here.

We have invested $17.5 billion in capital funding. We’ve built 820 new schools, and we’ve invested in more than 800 retrofits and additions. When you think of the reality that there are in the order of 5,000 publicly funded schools in this province, that is a huge percentage of schools that have either been rebuilt or have been renovated. Since 2013, we’ve invested $9.3 billion in capital funding to support more than 120 new schools and more than 140 additions and renovations. That rebuild and that renovation continues.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The fact remains that there’s a $15.9-billion backlog in repairs for schools in this province. The disrepair in Ontario schools started with the Conservative government; I don’t disagree with that observation that was just made by the Premier, because that government cut school maintenance budgets and left a $5.6-billion backlog when they were at the helm. It has continued, however, with the Liberal government, which has often provided just one tenth of what schools actually need to keep up with repairs.

Why did the Premier break her promise to Ontarians and follow in the Conservatives’ footsteps when it comes to education funding that leaves too many children in this province trying to learn in buildings that are falling apart around their ears?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Education.

Hon. Mitzie Hunter: First of all, Mr. Speaker, there’s no government in the history of this province that has invested more in education than this government on this side of the House.

I know that there are advocates here who are concerned about the state of our schools. We know that good school environments provide better learning environments for students. I want to thank Fix Our Schools for all of their advocacy and the advice that they have given to us. And do you know what, Mr. Speaker? We are following through. After inheriting a system that was, as the Premier has pointed out, in complete disrepair, we have been making those investments in new schools and additions, as well as in the repair of schools. This year alone, our government will spend $1.4 billion on school renewal, which is in line with what the Auditor General has advised on an ongoing basis to keep our schools in a good state of repair.

We know that there is more work to be done, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re making those investments and we’re working with school boards to do so.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Premier’s record on education is abysmal. Since 2011, the Liberals have closed more than 270 schools and put another 300 on the chopping block. The repair backlog has only gone up.

I think it’s pretty interesting to hear the Premier and the minister talk about the previous government’s complete disrepair status in terms of it being $5.6 billion. If they’re so concerned about the complete disrepair that they were left, why is it almost three times more under the Liberal government after 14 years in office? The repair backlog has only gone up, and now it’s $15.9 billion. Children are being sent to schools with leaky roofs and broken boilers. Thousands of students are being sent to learn in dilapidated portables.

Schools are parks, playgrounds and public spaces. They are supposed to support and encourage our kids to learn. Why has the Premier let our schools fall into such dismal disrepair?

Hon. Mitzie Hunter: We have a plan moving forward to continue to invest in Ontario’s schools. We are investing $16 billion over the next decade to invest in the infrastructure in our schools, because we know that good school environments provide optimal learning for students, and that is our focus.

I don’t know what the focus of the leader of the third party is, Mr. Speaker. The last time she put forward a plan, it promised an embarrassing $60 million a year for school repairs. That is just 4% of the $1.4 billion that we have committed to invest in school repair and renewal.

We know that Ontario schools are worthy of these investments, and that’s why we’re making them. We’re making these investments so that students can have the best learning environment possible. We have committed that funding to school boards so that they can prioritize the facilities that need repair.

Top Tips for Parent-Teacher Interviews

Autumn has flown by! It seems as if the kids just started school and now we are getting ready for parent-teacher interviews. We have some great tips to get the most of this important meeting:
Feedback written on chalkboard
Be prepared to talk about the topics that might come up.
Take time to consider and note your child’s:
• academics
• behaviour
• motivation
• work habits
• strengths and challenges
Be positive about your child’s relationship with the teacher, even if it is a rocky one. You are there to problem solve, not complain about the past. Ask positive questions about what your child is capable of and relay your high expectations for them.
Be focused about your child’s progress and growth, not their peers. It is best to compare your child’s progress with the grade-level expectations, Ontario’s can be found here. Reading their grade’s curriculum is worth the time; it can help you understand the direction their homework is taking and narrowly define any issues.
Listen and ask questions to get the most of your time and take notes.
Offer to help to work with the teacher to solve any issues they might have. Better still, offer to volunteer at the school. Even one day a month could transform the relationship your family has with the school.
Thank the teacher for their time, openness and concern.

How did Ontario’s schools get to be in such bad shape?

The scores of parents, grandparents, teachers and school staff who contact Fix Our Schools with questions are really all asking the same two questions:

  • How did the schools get to be in such bad shape?
  • When are we going to Fix Our Schools?

Economist Hugh_MacKenzie’s latest report, “Ontario’s deteriorating schools: The fix is not in”  answers the first question. Since the Province took over funding of schools 20 years ago, the physical condition of Ontario’s schools has been a consistent casualty.*

Fix Our Schools started with a room of parents in the local public school library wondering why our children’s school didn’t have proper heat, safe stairs, washroom stall doors, or space for them to sit in the cafeteria to eat lunch (many of them ate on the floor).

Some parents raised concerns about asbestos and peeling paint, which likely contained lead. We discussed how our school actually had an evacuation protocol in the winters so that when the boiler failed we’d know where to pick up our children. We also noted that the newer addition to the school was literally sinking.

Parents shared that some students were stressed; others didn’t use the washroom for the 6 hours they were in school, and many didn’t eat their lunches. The condition of the school was noticeably poor and seemed to be impacting our children’s learning. Something was wrong and we thought we could help. Thus, the Fix Our Schools campaign was founded. 

We soon found that we are adrift in a sea of schools that are in appalling shape. The majority of Ontario schools simply cannot be considered buildings that provide optimum learning conditions. Who let it get this far?

Here are some answers:

  • You might be surprised to hear that your property taxes don’t go to your chosen school board anymore. The present provincial funding process for schools (whereby the provincial government takes those taxes and doles them out as they see fit) is one of the reasons the majority of our schools have huge repair backlogs. 
  • This new funding process was meant to be beta-tested and re-examined regularly, but has continued without review for over 4 changes of provincial governments. Few of us are willing to read through the details of school funding so most of us assumed that our provincial government would provide sufficient funding to school boards to be able to regularly maintain and fix schools.  
  • You might have believed various Ministers of Education when they claimed that the money the province provided had just been squandered by the school boards. But the real story is that for many years the province was only providing ONE TENTH of the funding amount needed to repair schools to a good standard. No amount of finger pointing can disguise that. Fix Our Schools has demanded transparency and good governance from the school boards. You can read about the work that the TDSB, for example, has done to show this.
  • Since the Province took over responsibility for education funding in 1998, we see a disturbing and ongoing trend of increasing disrepair in Ontario schools. In 2003, $5.6 billion of disrepair was estimated to exist in Ontario’s schools. Today, the amount of disrepair has tripled to an eye-popping $15.9 Billion. That is a scary number. And an even scarier reality for the 2-million Ontario students who spend their days in these buildings.
  • Funding from the Province has also radically changed from year to year. Without stable funding your school board simply cannot plan. We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely with thoughtfulness and planning. Instead, boards are forced to be reactive, not proactive in spending.
  • The most important reason that $15.9 billion of disrepair has been allowed to accumulate in Ontario schools is that the entity with the power over the money (remember the Province holds all the power over education funding in Ontario) is NOT the entity with the responsibility to education (local School Boards). That disconnect between power/money and responsibility is key to this issue. 
  • And let’s not forget that Ontario also has schools funded by the federal government in appalling shape on First Nations reserves in the north.

It is time to tell our governments that we value education and we are outraged that they do not. Join us on Facebook and Twitter and let your voice be heard.

Pressure on Province to change EDC rules continues

On Friday, November 10, 2017, the TDSB released its updated disrepair data for each of its 584 schools and the news is not good. What was a $3.5 billion repair backlog a year ago has grown to $3.7 billion.

As Andrea Gordon reports on the November 10, 2017 in the Toronto Star article article entitled, “Toronto board wants developer levies used to fix aging schools“, “Despite improved funding from the province over the last few years, the $297 million for the current school year “is not enough to keep pace with the accumulated backlog and future repair needs. Without “adequate and predictable school funding for school repairs,” the board projected the bill will reach $5.25 billion by 2021.”

The fact is that for almost two decades, our provincial government grossly and chronically underfunded school repairs and maintenance. In many years, funding was one-tenth of what it ought to have been. This is a fact cited by Ontario’s Auditor-General and substantiated by industry standards. Another fact seems to be emerging that despite increased annual funding for school repairs by the provincial government, it is simply not enough to even begin to stem the tide on a consistently increasing repair backlog in the buildings where 2-million Ontario children spend their days.

So surely now is the time to be exploring every possible funding solution available to address not only the $3.5 billion of disrepair in TDSB schools but the overall $15.9 billion of disrepair that exists across all Ontario schools. One possible additional funding source for many boards is Education Development Charges – money that developers would pay to contribute to the public infrastructure from which they are profiting.

TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey commented, “Allowing the TDSB access to education development charges to repair and replace schools would be a good start.” Given the number of new units planned and under construction in the city, access to EDCs could translate into $300 million for the TDSB to improve and expand school buildings.

Every dollar counts and at a fundamental level, we know that developers choose to build in neighbourhoods where they can profit. What makes a neighbourhood potentially profitable to a developer? Access to public transit and good local schools are the two things that jump to mind. So if developers are selecting to build and profit from the public infrastructure in neighbourhoods then it seems crystal clear to Fix Our Schools that those developers must contribute back to that same public infrastructure – and schools are a critical element!

 

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TDSB Repair Backlog hits $3.7 billion

Fix Our Schools is thrilled to see the ongoing transparency into the magnitude of disrepair in Ontario’s school buildings. Today, in this press release, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has released its annual school-by-school Facility Condition Index (FCI) rating of its 584 school buildings, as well as the repair backlog for each school. The format of this information allows parents and communities to easily understand the condition of local schools and the repairs that are outstanding.

Like all school boards in Ontario, the TDSB has been grossly and chronically underfunded by the provincial government.

Even with increased provincial funding in recent years, there is simply not enough money for school boards to keep pace with the accumulated backlog and future repair needs. As evidence of this, the TDSB’s repair backlog increased from $3.5 billion in September 2016 to $3.7 billion in September 2017.

Without adequate and predictable funding for school repairs, disrepair in TDSB schools will continue growing to an estimated $5.25 billion by 2021.

To see data about the disrepair in your local school, please visit the Renewal Needs Backlog and Facilities Condition Index page on the TDSB website.

“Our backlog is $3.7 billion and continues to grow. Additional provincial funding and a new funding strategy with new sources of revenue is needed. Allowing the TDSB access to Education Development Charges to repair and replace schools would be a good start.” – Robin Pilkey, Chair, TDSB

 “Parents want to know the condition of their child’s schools, what we are doing to improve schools and the limitations we face with current funding levels. – John Malloy, Director, TDSB

 

Is a change in outdated EDC provincial regulation coming?

Lots of stakeholders are getting involved in the discussion about Education Development Charges (EDCs), urging the provincial government to consider changing the outdated regulation that dictates which school boards are eligible to collect EDC money from new developments and how those school boards can use that money.

In the last few weeks:

  1. The Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) sent this letter  to Education Minister Hunter, highlighting the need for changes to allow for more local flexibility to address  capital and renewal needs.
  2. City Councillors in Toronto called on the provincial government to make a change to allow all local school boards to collect levies from developers. In the November 7, 2017 Toronto Star article, entitled Developers should help pay to expand overcrowded schools”, Councillor Mike Layton said, “It’s “a no-brainer” that builders should contribute to costs of school infrastructure”.
  3.  TDSB Trustees have continued petitioning the province to change the outdated regulations that guide the eligibility for and use of EDC money. You can see coverage below on CityNews Toronto and sign the petition here!

TDSB trustees petition ministry over policy change to access existing repair funds

4. Parents and community members have continued to call on the Province for change as illustrated in the October 29, 2017 Toronto Star article written by Andrea Gordon, “Parents want developers to kick in and help expand overcrowded toronto schools”.

Lots of stakeholders all asking for change! Will the Province listen? Or continue to leave much needed money for school buildings on the table?

Disrepair in Ontario’s schools grows to $15.9 billion

In 2002, $5.6 billion of disrepair existed in Ontario’s publicly funded schools. Today, there is $15.9 billion of disrepair in the buildings where 2 million Ontario children spend their days. Chronic and gross underfunding by our provincial government has allowed disrepair in schools to triple over the last 15 years.  

On Tuesday, November 14 at 10:00 am, economist Hugh Mackenzie will release his report entitled, “Ontario’s deteriorating schools – the fix is not in” – which examines the root causes of the $15.9 billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools and outlines what the next provincial government must do to fix our schools

First thing on the list? A State of Good Repair Standard for all publicly funded schools so everyone has a common (and measurable!) understanding of what shape our schools ought to be in. Next? Adequate and stable provincial funding to ensure that all schools meet this standard. 

Developers should contribute to public infrastructure – including schools!

Since its inception in 2014, the Fix Our Schools campaign has always looked to Education Development Charges (EDCs) as a partial funding solution to address the $15.9 billion repair backlog that plagues Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

And yet, our provincial government has, to date, refused to amend a very outdated regulation that governs both the collection and use of EDCs. Under this outdated regulation, many school boards are ineligible to collect EDCS, even though new developments are leading to overcrowded local schools. Furthermore, the school boards who are able to collect EDCs are prevented from using this money for anything other than purchasing land.

TDSB Trustee Alexander Brown organized a public forum on October 30 at Earl Haig Secondary School where Education Minister Hunter was in attendance, as well as local City Councillor John Filion and local MPP David Zimmer. The forum was well attended by community members who sought real solutions to overcrowded local schools.

Leading up to the October 30th forum, Toronto Star’s Andrea Gordon wrote an article entitled, “Parents want Developers to Kick In and Help Expand Overcrowded Toronto Schools“.  Fix Our Schools is quoted:

“If developers are choosing to build in a certain area, in large part it’s because of good schools their buyers can go to,” said Fix Our Schools co-founder Krista Wylie. “So surely to goodness if a developer is benefitting . . . then they should contribute back.”

She said restrictions should be loosened so those charges can be used to address the estimated $15.9 billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools needing new roofs and furnaces.

CBC Metro Morning talked to TDSB Trustee Alexander Brown following the October 30th forum.

CBC News issued the article entitled, “Parents push Ontario to solve overcrowding in schools“.

55 children eating lunch in one classroom

We continue to hear from more people across Ontario about the importance of safe, healthy, well-maintained schools that provide environments conducive to learning. 

One Ontario citizen who is both a parent and an education worker sent us a copy of a letter she wrote to Premier Wynne during the heat wave in September. Many important points are raised in this letter, including the importance of ensuring that new school buildings are safe, healthy buildings that provide environments conducive to learning. 

I work in a kindergarten class, which is a new build with many new south-facing windows. The picture here was taken on day 3 of the September 2017 heat wave when I had finally had enough of three to five year olds suffering (the temperature was the lowest on this day).

We actually had to relocate the students to a cooler class (not air-conditioned) at lunch where 55 children had to eat lunch in one classroom just to be comfortable enough to eat their lunch. One child became so overheated that she had a terrible nosebleed that was difficult to stop because her temperature was so high.

Given the recent climate changes over the past few years that regularly sees parents dropping off ineffective fans for their children’s comfort, I would like you to consider increasing funding to deal specifically with the climate control in schools without air conditioning.

No person can possibly learn anything or function at a reasonable level at 34 degrees celsius. We simply must ensure that adequate funding exists for each classroom to maintain temperatures conducive to learning. 

Thank you very much for your consideration of this request.