Chapman’s Ice Cream in Markdale desperate to save local school

Chapman’s Ice Cream in Markdale, Ontario is desperate to save the local school from closure, as is outlined in the April 3, 2017 edition of CBC’s The Current.

So desperate, in fact, that in fall 2016, Chapmans offered a multi-million donation to save and replace the school. Fix Our Schools is happy to see businesses recognize the importance of strong, local schools. Our campaign also works to encourage the provincial government to explore new funding solutions to ensure that students in all Ontario communities have safe, well-maintained local schools to attend.

The question posed in the CBC piece above was this: “But is public education still public if it’s funded in part by private money?”

An interesting question. With $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario schools and hundreds of Ontario schools being assessed for potential closure, must all funding solutions be on the table?

 

Toronto Mayor demands adequate and stable funding from Province; School Boards need same

Toronto Mayor, John Tory, has placed blame on the Province for lack of adequate infrastructure in Toronto, including transit and housing.  In a CBC News article entitled, “It won’t be “business as usual” until province funds Toronto’s needs, Tory warns Sousa”, Tory was quoted as saying, 

“So let me be very clear: Any closure of [social housing] units would be a direct result of the inaction of the other governments to partner with us in those repairs. Projects of that magnitude were never intended to be carried out by property taxes alone,”

Tory also has told the Province that the city needs stable funding that can be counted on and planned for from year to year.

Tory was also mentioned that provincial funding impacts citizens, and that he plans to listen to what funding ideas the other parties have, leading into the next provincial election in June 2018.

“Ahead of the next provincial election, Tory said he plans on sitting down with leaders of all provincial political parties and “canvass them for their ideas and their commitments to the future wellbeing of the city of Toronto.” 

School boards also need stable and adequate funding in order to ensure safe, well-maintained school buildings for the 2-million Ontario children who spend their days in these buildings.

For two decades, the Province has not provided the yearly funding needed for school boards to properly maintain their school buildings. In 2015, Ontario’s Auditor-General cited industry accepted standards when outlining that a minimum of $1.4-Billion per year is needed for school repairs. With this minimum funding in mind, the Province underfunded school boards for school repairs by $5.8-Billion between 2011-16.  Indeed, the Province needs to start taking the responsibility that comes with being the sole funder of public education in this Province and start implementing funding solutions to Fix Our Schools.

Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC)

The Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC) represents 49 school groups, 6 counties and 18 district school boards across the province, largely in rural and Northern Ontario. They emerged out of the belief that a local school is integral to the fabric of any thriving community and that no community should be isolated by having its local school closed. You can find out more about the OAASC here.

Fix Our Schools had the privilege of joining OAASC at a recent panel discussion hosted by CUPE and seeing this presentation by OAASC.

 

Rozanski Report – still worth implementing 15-years later!

After reviewing the 2002 Rozanski Report, Fix Our Schools found this 15-year old report to still be incredibly relevant today.

In 2002, Mordechai Rozanski conducted a comprehensive review of Ontario’s education funding formula and made recommendations to improve both the adequacy and structure of education funding in Ontario. Unfortunately, most of his recommendations have not yet been implemented. However, with a provincial election in 2018, all political parties are starting to pull together their platforms. We would urge all parties to integrate Rozanski’s recommendations into their respective education platforms.

The funding formula for education is not meeting the needs of the 2-million students who attend publicly funded schools in this province. Improvements are desperately needed and the Rozanski report provides a framework for doing just that.

Rozanski found the following issues with the provincial funding formula for school repair and renewal; and made the accompanying recommendations.

Issue 1: As of 2002, yearly funding to school boards for school renewal (repairs and maintenance) was $266-million for school assets valued at $28-billion. This was less than 1% of the value of the facility replacement value of schools. Established guidelines recommended that governments provide annually a minimum of 1.5% to 4% of the current facility replacement value of a building for renewal needs.

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • Update the benchmark costs within the education funding formula and increase annual funding for school renewal to meet industry guidelines.

Where this issue is at today:

in 2015, Ontario’s Auditor-General issued a report stating that $1.4-billion per year ought to be allocated to school boards for school repairs and maintenance, a figure that represented 2.5% of the value of school assets in Ontario. Between 2011-2015, provincial funding for school repairs was $5.8-billion less than it ought to have been, according to these Ontario Auditor-General numbers, which obviously contributed to the ballooning deferred maintenance backlog.

In June 2016, the Liberal provincial government did announce $1.1-billion of new money over two years for school repairs (after significant pressure from Fix Our Schools and both the NDP and PC parties). This new money brought annual funding for school repairs in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 to the $1.4-billion recommended. Therefore, annual funding for school repairs is finally at a level that it always OUGHT to have been at!

Implications: 

Any responsible provincial government would protect a minimum annual provincial budget allocation of $1.4-billion for school repairs to ensure routine maintenance of the buildings in which 2-million Ontario children spend their days.

Issue 2: As of 2002, $5.6-billion of deferred maintenance had been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • School boards should secure capital financing needed to quickly address this deferred maintenance via debentures
  • Province ought to support school boards with $200-million of additional funding for interest and principal payments on these debentures

Where this issue is at today:

The provincial government never pursued the solution of debt financing to a degree that impacted the deferred maintenance backlog in Ontario’s schools. As of 2017, the deferred maintenance backlog in our schools has ballooned to $15-billion.

Implications:

Our provincial government must admit that annual funding allocations will never address a $15-billion issue that took 20 years to manifest. Solutions such as issuing bonds to allow Ontario citizens to invest in our publicly funded schools must be considered.

Green Bonds fund infrastructure … an interesting model for education?

Fix Our Schools would like Kathleen Wynne’s government to consider issuing bonds to fund investment in fixing and rebuilding Ontario’s publicly funded schools – much like how the province has been issuing Green Bonds to fund environmentally friendly infrastructure.

According to the February 3, 2017 news release from Ontario’s provincial government entitled, “Green Bond Proceeds to Fund Environmentally Friendly Infrastructure Projects”:

Ontario has successfully issued its third green bond, raising $800 million to help build clean transportation and environmentally friendly infrastructure projects in communities across the province.

Proceeds from the bond will support 12 projects, including:

  • St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, targeted to achieve LEED® gold-level certification
  • ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville, expected to achieve LEED® silver-level certification
  • York VivaNEXT Bus Rapid Transit Expansion in York Region
  • GO Transit Regional Express Rail in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

Green bonds help Ontario’s efforts to fight climate change and build on initiatives such as setting a cap on pollution, ending coal-fired electricity generation, and electrifying and improving the province’s commuter rail network.

Building green, environmentally friendly infrastructure is part of Ontario’s plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

Quick Facts

  • Pioneered by the World Bank in 2008, green bonds raise capital for projects with specific environmental benefits.
  • In 2014, Ontario became the first province in Canada to develop and sell green bonds, encouraging investment in environmentally friendly projects and attracting new investors.
  • Ontario is the largest issuer of Canadian dollar green bonds, with three outstanding green issues totalling $2.05 billion.
  • On January 26, 2017, Ontario successfully priced a $800 million bond with a maturity date of January 27, 2023.

 

How do cities and school boards secure sufficient funding for infrastructure?

In the February 16, 2017 Toronto Sun article entitled, “Mayor Tory urges province, feds to step up to the plate”, John Tory states that, “Toronto is locked in a pair of “prehistoric handcuffs” and senior governments have the keys.”

Tory made these comments outside of a Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) building in Etobicoke as he urged the provincial and federal governments to help address the $2.6-billion repair backlog that has been allowed to accumulate in the city’s social housing buildings. Tory goes on to say, “Another year of tweaking and fiddling on the budget front without real help from them just won’t cut it in terms of our responsibility that we have to the people of this city.”

In the January 27, 2017 CBC News entitled, “Mayor Tory decries ‘short-sighted’ road-toll rejection by province”, Tory says that, “he’s tired of Queen’s Park treating him like a “little boy in short pants,” when he’s trying to to secure money to pay for billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects.”

And in a February 21, 2017 editorial in the Toronto Star, entitled, “The Province must deliver long-term funding support to Toronto”, Mayor Tory continued this general theme.

Mayor Tory is understandably frustrated by the fact that he feels a great responsibility to meet the needs of the people of Toronto and yet is unable to accomplish this because the provincial government holds more power and access to funding.

School board trustees throughout Ontario are likely very familiar with Mayor Tory’s “prehistoric handcuffs”. For years, they’ve undertaken to do what is best for the students, families and communities they serve – but must rely on the province for almost all funding. Given that the Province routinely blames school boards for not meeting the needs of students, Ontario school boards are also familiar with the frustration of trying to secure adequate funding when they can’t control the sources of those funds. Ontario’s 72 school boards must be able to access stable and adequate funding to repair and build new schools so that the real people in short pants, our children, can go to school in safe, well-maintained schools.

Community hubs: a real possibility or a pipe dream?

Community hubs demand co-operation and collaboration between multiple levels of government: the provincial government, municipalities, and school boards.

Only two out of these three levels of government have the power to access money via taxes and user fees – the provincial government and municipalities. And let’s be honest, the Province has the lion’s share of the power and ability to access money!  Municipalities come in second place, when it comes to power and ability to access money… and school boards fall a distant third.

The fact is that school boards have very little power and almost no access to money beyond what is provided by the provincial funding formula for education. In some special instances, money comes to school boards from municipalities based on special agreements.

Case in point… the City of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board have an agreement where the city funds the operation of certain school pools and, in return, it is given exclusive use of these pools in the evenings, on weekends and during summer break. The city’s Parks and Recreation department can use this time to provide swimming lessons and open swim times for the local community. This agreement between a school board and a municipality has been a great example of multiple levels of government working together to create community hubs.

However, as Robin Pilkey, Chair of the TDSB, outlines in a February 15, 2017 Toronto Star editorial entitled,“City must commit to help fund school pools: Pilkey”, the City has cut funding to eleven pools since 2007. The TDSB has kept these pools open since it believed these community pools were important to students and families. However, the TDSB has not received funding from either City or Province to fund these pools. Therefore, money to keep these pools open has been allocated at the expense of fixing schools. These are tough decisions to have been made by the School Board.

“Caught between a rock and hard place” seems an apt description. Close these community pools and see community outrage; or keep these community pools open at the expense of making much-needed repairs in other schools.

In recent days, Toronto Mayor John Tory has said the City of Toronto will cut funding to an additional three pools in order to save money. He announced this without any discussion or meeting with the TDSB, and then has claimed the TDSB will be able to keep these pools open, even without city funding.

At the beginning of this post, we talked about each level of government’s access to power and money. Let’s now examine the issue of accountability. Ironically, when it comes to education, school boards end up with the lion’s share of accountability, even though their power and access to money is very limited. In contrast, municipalities and the provincial government are quick to shirk responsibility for anything to do with education and publicly funded schools, consistently pointing back to school boards bearing the responsibility.

We’re hoping this dynamic seems as odd to you as it does to us. Shouldn’t power and accountability reside in the same place? Community hubs will only be a pipe dream if those levels of government with the most power and access to money take no responsibility for how their decisions impact Ontario citizens and communities.

 

Rozanski Report: Issues with the funding formula for school repairs – and recommendations!

In the 2002 Rozanski Report, found the following issues with the provincial funding formula for school repair and renewal; and made the accompanying recommendations.

Issue 1: As of 2002, yearly funding to school boards for school renewal (repairs and maintenance) was $266-million for school assets valued at $28-billion. This was less than 1% of the value of the facility replacement value of schools. Established guidelines recommended that governments provide annually a minimum of 1.5% to 4% of the current facility replacement value of a building for renewal needs.

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • Update the benchmark costs within the education funding formula and increase annual funding for school renewal to meet industry guidelines.

Where this issue is at today:

in 2015, Ontario’s Auditor-General issued a report stating that $1.4-billion per year ought to be allocated to school boards for school repairs and maintenance, a figure that represented 2.5% of the value of school assets in Ontario. Between 2011-2015, provincial funding for school repairs was $5.8-billion less than it ought to have been, according to these Ontario Auditor-General numbers, which obviously contributed to the ballooning deferred maintenance backlog.

In June 2016, the Liberal provincial government did announce $1.1-billion of new money over two years for school repairs (after significant pressure from Fix Our Schools and both the NDP and PC parties). This new money brought annual funding for school repairs in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 to the $1.4-billion recommended. Therefore, annual funding for school repairs is finally at a level that it always OUGHT to have been at!

Implications:

Our provincial government must continue annual funding at the level of 2.5% of the value of Ontario’s school assets.

Issue 2: As of 2002, $5.6-billion of deferred maintenance had been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • School boards should secure capital financing needed to quickly address this deferred maintenance via debentures
  • Province ought to support school boards with $200-million of additional funding for interest and principal payments on these debentures

Where this issue is at today:

The provincial government never pursued the solution of debt financing to a degree that impacted the deferred maintenance backlog in Ontario’s schools. As of 2017, the deferred maintenance backlog in our schools has ballooned to $15-billion.

Implications:

Our provincial government must acknowledge that annual budgets are never going to solve the $15-billion problem of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. The $15-billion deferred maintenance backlog accrued over 20 years and therefore, debt financing is an appropriate funding solution for a problem of this magnitude, and must be pursued if we are to fix our schools.

 

Ontario communities each have unique educational issues

While Fix Our Schools focuses on the importance of quickly addressing the $15-billion of disrepair that has accumulated in Ontario’s publicly funded schools, many people in rural Ontario are more concerned about actually keeping a school in their community. As one citizen who lives in Flesherton wrote to us, “you can’t fix a school you don’t have!”

True point.

In rural and northern Ontario, school closures are being encouraged by our provincial government in the name of “efficient use of resources” – even if that means students spend 2 hours each day on a bus. The Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC) is backed by close to 1-million Ontario citizens and is calling on the Ministry of Education to enact a moratorium on school closures until such a time that funding can be aligned fairly and the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline is rewritten with a democratic respect for communities, local economies and local governments. The OAASC spoke to the devastating cost of school closures on communities at the Minister of Finance’s pre-budget consultations in London on Friday, January 20th.

Susan MacKenzie, an OAASC co-founder said, “with an estimated 600 school closures, it is the rural and northern communities that will be hit the hardest.” MacKenzie contends that the Student Transportation Grant could balloon to $1 billion in the near term to cover the increased costs of transporting students longer distances to schools. She says, “if the Ministry of Education can find this kind of money for transportation, they can find savings to keep rural schools open.”

In Suburban areas of high growth, citizens have other concerns. In many of these areas, classrooms are bursting at the seams.

In suburban Ontario, student populations are growing so quickly that classrooms are routinely overcrowded. In the Globe and Mail article from December 18, 2016 entitled, “In Milton, Ont., crowded classrooms put Canada’s fastest-growing town to the test”,  the reality of a growing school population is explored.

In order to efficiently use the assets we call schools, school boards alter school boundaries to address crowding issues at schools, or if a new school is built. While on paper, this seems like a good idea and certainly optimizes efficiency of how school buildings are used, the reality is that children can be forced to move schools frequently. As one parent says, “You don’t feel connected or attached to a school. You kind of feel like you’re being thrown around,” she says. “Right now, I’m pretty confident that we’re so close to the school, we shouldn’t get switched. But with this whole neighbourhood being built, I mean really, anything can happen.”

Another common solution is portables, which do not provide an ideal learning environment. Students can feel isolated from the main school building and the rest of the school community. The conditions of portables are not routinely assessed, so poor conditions can go unaddressed. Yet, new schools in suburban Ontario routinely open their doors, already requiring a multitude of portables on their school site to accommodate the number of students attending the school on day one!

So while Fix Our Schools continues to focus on ensuring that all Ontario students attend safe, well-maintained schools that provide environments conducive to learning, we are also very sensitive to these additional challenges faced in both rural and suburban areas of our province and support work to address these issues as well. Interestingly, the root cause of all of these issues is the provincial education funding formula. Quite simply put, this funding formula has not provided what is needed for any Ontario community over the past 20-years and must be overhauled.