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Province tells school boards to notify parents about lead in drinking water

In the November 27, 2017 Toronto Star article entitled, “Education Minister asks school boards to notify parents of lead in drinking water in ‘timely manner‘”, the issue of lead in drinking water in schools and daycares in Ontario continues to be explored.

Education Minister Hunter claimed that the Province has a long-term plan to address lead in drinking water at schools and daycares, which includes the increased annual funding for school renewal of $1.4 billion/year. However, Fix Our Schools was cited as saying that this amount is “not enough to address the backlog of various repairs needed at schools across the province.” Indeed, there is a $15.9 billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools and replacing all the lead pipes that contribute to lead in the drinking water of Ontario’s schools is not included in that figure.

Get the lead out! tap w/water coming out“Ideally, nobody would be drinking out of lead pipes,” said Krista Wylie, the co-founder of the advocacy group Fix Our Schools. But neither school boards nor principals have access to the funding needed to undertake a “huge infrastructure overhaul,” she said.

 

Schools Are Community

Recently our local public elementary school reached it’s 100th anniversary. Generations of alumni, neighbours, students & parents were all thrilled to attend an event that celebrated the school’s history in our neighbourhood.
Group of kids in "LEAP" shirtsSchools are important hubs in our communities, providing green play space, offering gyms for local events and bringing staff, parents, grandparents & caregivers together. Schools are also advised by parent councils who reflect the needs of the community.
Teachers in our schools welcome many new immigrants into their community. Many of these students came from war-torn countries where they missed school, did not have access to adequate health care and worried about their future. Welcoming them into our community means helping them to get a better standard of living and teaching them to read and write well as fast as possible.
The TDSB, for example, uses LEAP (Literacy Enrichment Academic Program) to teach new immigrants literacy, math and study skills. LEAP is designed to teach older students how to read and the teachers who use it change lives.
Read heartwarming stories about Syrian teens who are becoming essential members of their communities because of their school. Schools are community.

Mitten and Hat Time

It’s the time of year when parents bemoan the constant loss of hats, mitts, boots and indoor shoes. Or worse still, the loss of one shoe! This is your reminder to take 10 minutes this weekend and label everything that isn’t nailed down!
laundry basket full of sneakers
Tips on labelling equipment:
Light coloured clothes/ tags: Use Fine Permanent Black Marker (Sharpie, Pentel)
Dark clothes/tags: Use White or Silver Marker (Pilot, Sharpie)
Iron-On Labels (Canadian companies include Stuck On You, Mabel’s Labels and Sticker Kid)
Shoes/Boots Label the inside tongue of shoe (Use Permanent Marker or Custom Shoe Label)
And don’t forget to encourage your child to visit the school lost and found frequently!

What we’re hearing from custodians from across the province …

We heard the following from a head custodian who works with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, which serves rural and urban communities surrounding Peterborough Ontario.

The lack of funding for maintenance and infrastructure repair creates cascading problems. When we have to close down part of an aging building because we don’t have the funds to maintain or repair it, students get squeezed, and the learning environment suffers. When maintenance and infrastructure budgets are stripped of funds to pay for other vital but underfunded programs – like mandated small class sizes or full-day kindergarten – kids suffer. We know very well that the physical infrastructure of schools contributes to the learning environment of the child.”

This statement underscores the need for a provincial education funding approach that takes into account differences in geography, demographics and the age of school buildings when it comes not only to school renewal funding but also to operational maintenance funding. It also underscores the need for a provincial standard for building maintenance.

The $15.9 billion of disrepair that has accumulated in Ontario’s schools is due to the chronic and gross provincial underfunding for two decades…

  • Underfunding of school renewal
  • Underfunding of operational maintenance
  • Underfunding of new schools

This situation is not sustainable. We need to truly fix our schools and also to truly fix the provincial education funding approach in Ontario.

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 points out that since 2002, the repair backlog in Ontario’s publicly funded schools has increased from $5.6 billion to $15.9 billion – tripling in 15 years. Current provincial funding for school renewal totals $1.4 billion per year (comprised of $1 billion in special School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding + $357 million in regular School Renewal Allocation (SRA) funding). Mackenzie’s report confirms that despite the significant increase in annual provincial funding for school renewal since 2015, $1.4 billion/year is simply not enough to make up for the 20 years when provincial funding was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been. In fact, the report highlights that with current increased provincial funding levels for school renewal, the repair backlog will continue to increase.

What do we need to do to truly fix our schools? Continue reading

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? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

two screwdrivers, some screwsAs 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.”

Continue reading

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.

TDSB logo

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. Continue reading