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Plan to Attend! Education Forum with Minister Hunter on Monday, October 30

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is going to be attending an Education Forum in the GTA and we’d love for YOU to attend. Although this meeting was set up specific to Overcrowding in Willowdale Schools, this certainly is a great opportunity to ask questions of our Education Minister and let her know our expectation that all Ontario schools be healthy, safe, well-maintained buildings that provide environments conducive to learning and working!  Hope to see you there!

Yet another example of how disrepair impacts Ontario students and teachers…

On October 13, 2017, CBC reported on “Health worries at Regal Road P.S. after construction drags on”. The article raises concerns about the health of students and teachers at Regal Road Junior Public School, as construction work drags on well into the school year to replace the school’s furnace and deal with associated asbestos removal.

Regal Road P.S. Today

Parent Council member Stephanie Ayers says, “There’s been an increase in absences. For students that have breathing issues, asthma and that kind of thing, they are definitely having trouble. There’s one child in my son’s class who has gone home early every single day. Kids have been wheezing and coughing and at least one staff member at the school has been off since the end of September because of respiratory problems. Another child who has acute asthma ended up in hospital for four days and three nights, only to end up back in a hospital ER within 24 hours. That child has been kept home by the parent ever since.”

Every week, Fix Our Schools is hearing from more parents and teachers about the health and safety impact of the $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. This $15-billion is not simply a number – it has real consequences to the children and adults who spend their days in Ontario’s publicly funded schools. It is also important to note that this $15-billion repair backlog accumulated over two decades, when provincial funding to school boards for school repairs was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been. In fact, when the Fix Our Schools campaign began 3.5 years ago, provincial funding for school repairs was only ONE-TENTH of what industry standards (and Ontario’s Auditor-General!) say is needed to keep schools in a state of good repair.

Today, the Province provides about $1.4-billion/year to school boards for school repairs and maintenance. Unfortunately, this is at the low end of what industry standards suggest is required annually to “keep schools in good shape”. Worse still, this new level of funding does not start to fix the $15-billion of disrepair that is a product of decades of grossly inadequate provincial funding. The Province provides all funding for schools and education so the real power for change resides within the provincial government. 

With these facts in mind, Fix Our Schools encourages all parents across the province to take steps to ensure that their local schools are safe, healthy and well-maintained buildings by:

  • Working with your Principal and local Trustee.
  • Contacting your local MPP, the Minister of Education and the Premier as well.

10 Things you Need to Know About Your School’s Repair Backlog

Here are some things you need to know about your school’s repair backlog!

1. Your kids could tell you wild stories – but they are real.

Ask your kids pointed questions about their school’s condition. Do they wear sweaters or coats in the classroom? Do the washrooms have stall doors and is there soap? Do they have a table to eat lunch at? Are there bugs on the floor? Is there water dripping from the ceiling? Are the stairs smooth and slippery?

2. School conditions affect your child’s learning.

You’ve spent all that time wondering how to improve your child’s math mark. What if it is the building? Research shows that poor school conditions affect learning.

3. Your principal is not responsible for the physical condition of your school.

A principal is responsible for maintaining a high standard of curriculum delivery at your school. This is a vital job that they must have time to do. Although parents often turn to principals for help, principals are not able to secure more funding to repair your local school, nor are they a construction manager.

4. Half of the repairs needed at your school are hidden from you.

Thinks your local school looks run-down? You can’t see behind the walls. Very few repairs have been funded by our provincial government over the last two decades, so there are structural/heating/venting/roofing/water issues at many schools across the province. This type of disrepair may not be visible but may be the most concerning type of disrepair.

5. Safety is a top priority when making repairs.

Work in partnership with your school council, principal, superintendent and trustee during construction to ensure that safety is everyone’s priority every day. Ask questions about how construction traffic will be kept separate from students, about air quality and temperature monitoring and about communication strategies.

6. All funding for school repairs comes from the Provincial Government.

School boards used to tax us directly and managed schools well. Now School Boards have no power of taxation. ONLY the Provincial Government provides funding for schools and in the two decades that the Province has held power over education funding, $15-billion of disrepair has accumulated in Ontario’s schools. Provincial politicians often blame local school boards for not being efficient … not spending the money wisely. However, three years ago when Fix Our Schools began, provincial funding to school boards for repairs and maintenance was ONE-TENTH of what industry standards suggest is needed to KEEP schools in a state of good repair. It is hard to hold school boards responsible when they were only receiving a mere fraction of what was needed to repair and maintain Ontario’s publicly funded schools. 

7. Fix Our Schools subscribers can help secure funding.

We know that voters expect Ontario’s schools to be funded as essential infrastructure in our province, just like bridges and roads. You can add your voice to the growing support of this vision.

8. Your Board has a vision for state-of-the-art schools.

High tech, natural light, clean, eco-friendly buildings. We won’t get those schools as long as funding is so low that your local school board’s facility department can’t fix leaking roofs fast enough.

9. School Boards can’t be effective with unstable funding.

Imagine if your monthly grocery budget changed weekly without warning. It goes from $20/week up to $200/week and then back down to $20/week. You would not be effective or efficient in planning nutritious meals or buying wisely. School boards also cannot hire the best staff to affect repairs without stable funding.

10. School buildings are valuable assets that your parents and grandparents paid for and that you own.

Every year, companies that own buildings, such as banks, calculate 2% of the building’s value and spend that amount in routine maintenance and repairs to keep that asset in good shape. Ontario taxpayer’s collection of school buildings lose value when they aren’t repaired. The Provincial government is further wasting our tax dollars by forcing school boards to do repeated patches rather than full repairs and to conduct reactive repairs rather than proactive maintenance, which costs far less.

More than 640 Ontario schools and daycares fail lead tests

After the Toronto Star newspaper spent a year trying to obtain data from Ontario’s Environment Ministry on which schools failed lead tests, the Province finally decided to publish information online this past Friday, October 6, 2017. Coincidentally, this same day, the Toronto Star published an article entitled, “More than 640 Ontario schools and daycares failed lead tests in the past two years”.

On a positive note, Ontario has the most stringent program in the country for monitoring lead in drinking water at schools and daycares and recently implemented even stricter standards. 

However, as citizens, we should take note of several points this article raises:

  1. Our provincial government only felt compelled to be transparent about the data on lead tests after being pressured by the media. Thumbs down…we expect transparency from our provincial government – especially where children’s health is concerned.
  2. On a similar note, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is quoted as saying, “Every child in a child-care centre or school in Ontario is drinking clean, safe water.” Thumbs down…if our elected officials are not willing to acknowledge scientific facts that reveal a problem then how can we move to finding solutions? The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one! 
  3. Many school boards cited in the article took immediate steps to address high lead levels and communicated the issue and solution steps with parents. Thumbs up...thank you to school boards and principals for quickly finding solutions and for being transparent with your school communities. Our education system must encourage teachers, principals and school boards to raise issues and be transparent when issues arise to ensure schools are safe and healthy places!
  4. Whereas there is a provincial standard in place for the amount of lead in the water at schools and child-care centres, most elements of Ontario’s schools are not held to any standard. Air quality in classrooms, temperature in classrooms, outstanding maintenance and repairs in school buildings and portables for example. Thumbs down…we must advocate to have measurable standards in place for the buildings where our children spend their days.

Are Canadian schools ready for a natural disaster?

We’ve seen shocking examples of unprecedented natural disasters this fall. Scientists seem to be confident we’ll continue to see record-breaking weather events. 

While we consider how to best help the victims of recent hurricanes and devastating earthquakes, many Canadians are wondering about our country’s emergency-response capabilities. How would we fair with a Category 5 hurricane? Or a major earthquake like the one that devasted Mexico’s Oaxaca region?

Most Canadians know that British Columbians live in an area that is geologically active. B.C. has had 75 earthquakes in the last month alone. This week, B.C. experienced an earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale. An earthquake of 5+ can cause damage to buildings.

But do Canadians know that many children in schools in B.C. won’t be in buildings that are earthquake retrofitted? What would they say if they knew that the provincial government in B.C., regardless of the party in power, still can’t decide when to fully fund this retrofit?

B.C. has very similar tectonic plate setup to Mexico’s, and school boards are very concerned with the safety of the schools. The timeline to retrofit these schools continues to be pushed back.  Do Canadians have time to waste?

Canadians from coast-to-coast share a common problem: provincial governments are not ensuring children go to school in safe, well maintained buildings. Ask your local MP what they are doing to Fix Our Schools. Our children matter and they deserve better than we are currently delivering to them. 

Baby, it’s HOT outside…

Who can focus and learn in a hot room?

On very warm days, chances are that your children learn in classrooms with open windows but no air conditioning. Their classrooms are stifling hot. Students and teachers struggle to stay focused and get the job done. You and I went to school in those same classrooms and survived… so what’s the big deal? 

Things have changed: 

• Firstly, we have warmer average temperatures for the shoulder seasons. Spring and fall are hotter than when we attended school. Children have to cope with difficult classroom temperatures for much longer periods most years. 

• Secondly, Ontario schools are not designed for intense heat, and they are being retrofitted with safety windows that now barely open. There is no cross ventilation with other classrooms, as is evidenced in the photo here.

• Thirdly, there is also research that shows that controlling the classroom temperatures significantly improves the academic success of the class.

There is a solution but it won’t come any time soon without your help. There are new options available for classroom temperatures in Ontario that cannot be rolled out until Provincial funding is made available. 

The most difficult part of this issue is that politicians with the power over school funding sit in cool, air conditioned offices in the summer and warm heated ones in the winter. Is it any wonder there is no empathy for our students and teachers?

Contact your MPP now to demand funding for safe, well-maintained schools. Call or email your local MPP at their Constituency Office. You are their constituent and they care what you think because they want your vote in June 2018. 

So important to share how disrepair impacts students and adults in schools!

To exert pressure, we need your stories and photos. We must ensure that Ontario citizens far and wide are as affronted as we are by the unacceptable temperatures in classrooms, the leaking ceilings, the disgusting washrooms, the asbestos, the mould, the crumbling stairs, and the list goes on…

So please take a minute, and send us a photo of disrepair in your local school and explain to us the impact to students and adults who spend their days in this school.

Have we even stopped the bleeding on the $15-Billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools?

In August 2016, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) led the way in transparency, when it released detailed information on disrepair in its schools, including both Facility Condition Index (FCI)  and the Renewal Needs Backlog

Feeling pressure to follow suit, the Ministry of Education released information on disrepair for all Ontario schools, confirming that over $15-Billion of disrepair existed in our publicly funded schools. 

The Ministry of Education has increased funding for school repairs significantly over the past three years. In fact, since 2014 when Fix Our Schools began, funding for school repairs has increased by $1.25-Billion/year to $1.4-billion/year – the level it always ought to have been. As a result, a lot of work has been done to schools this past year and a lot of work is continuing to happen at schools to address disrepair.

How much of the $15-Billion repair backlog has been addressed? Citizens will have no idea unless the data that the Ministry of Education released a year ago is updated each year and made public. It would be nice to know if we’ve even stopped the bleeding on the year-over-year increase in disrepair in the buildings where 2-million Ontario children spend their days! 

This type of accountability seems highly reasonable. Our schools certainly don’t look as if everything has been fixed!

If the provincial government claims that $1.4-billion/year for school repairs is sufficient to ensure that all Ontario children attend safe, well-maintained schools then we deserve to know how this funding has actually impacted our children’s schools. 

So Minister Hunter, “When can we expect to see updated data about the FCI ratings and outstanding repairs for all Ontario schools”? 

Shame on you for even making us ask. Your Ministry should, in the interest of being transparent and accountable, automatically update and issue this information every year! 

You should feel proud!

Summer is drawing to a close and the 2017/18 school year is about to begin.

Many Ontario students will return to schools that are in better shape than they were a year ago. Over the summer, countless people from all over the province made comments to me about how much construction work seemed to be going on at schools in their communities. Hurrah! Finally!

For too long, the money provided by our provincial government to school boards for school repairs was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been. Industry standards suggest that $1.4-billion per year is the bare minimum required to ensure that Ontario’s schools are kept in a state of good repair.

When the Fix Our Schools campaign started over 3 years ago, annual provincial funding for school repairs was a mere $150-million. No wonder school boards were having trouble keeping up with school repairs and repair backlogs were growing, given that the Province was only providing 10% of the money actually needed to properly maintain schools!

The Province is now providing $1.4-billion per year to school boards for school repair. Hurrah! Finally!

We realize that there is still much work to do, given that $15-billion of disrepair accumulated in Ontario’s schools over the two decades when annual provincial funding for school repairs was grossly inadequate. A repair backlog of this magnitude obviously must be addressed. All children in Ontario deserve to attend a safe, well-maintained school. 

However, through our grassroots, child-focused, non-partisan activism, Fix Our Schools has achieved what many thought was impossible. We have effectively and consistently raised the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools, becoming a critical force in pressuring Kathleen Wynne’s government to increase annual funding for school repairs by $1.25-billion. If you have engaged in any way, large or small, with the Fix Our Schools campaign then you should feel proud of this accomplishment. Whenever you see a school under construction, know that you contributed to making that school improvement possible.

Photos of Ontario schools in disrepair

What school is this?

It really doesn’t matter… so many of Ontario’s schools are in a similar state of disrepair that these photos could have been taken in any number of communities across the province.

Ask your MPP why schools have been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair.

More importantly, ask your local MPP what they plan to do to Fix Our Schools.