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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario?
Built as part of a community complex, this high school opened its doors in September 2013. As one student wrote in a Burlington Gazette article, “I’m so jealous. I fell asleep in the middle of my math exam in June of 2012. Why did I fall asleep? No air conditioning. Well at Dr. Frank J. Hayden High School they won’t have that problem. They have air-conditioning and I’ve heard it’s absolutely gorgeous. The whole school is new; and new is spectacular!”
Indeed, new is spectacular! While not all Ontario students can attend brand new schools, all Ontario students ought to attend school buildings that are safe, well-maintained and that provide an environment conducive to learning. Let your MPP know that you expect their government to provide sufficient funding to all Ontario’s school boards to address the $15-billion of disrepair that currently exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.
We’ve copied and pasted the following section on how disrepair in Ontario’s public schools is assessed from page 13 of Chapter 3 of the 2015 Auditor-General’s report, since there is a lot of interesting information for people concerned with the state of disrepair in Ontario’s public schools:
“In 2011, to quantify the current backlog of renewal needs for all Ontario schools, the Ministry of Education hired a company specializing in asset management to conduct condition assessments on all schools five years and older. The assessments are being done over a five year period covering about 20% of the schools per year. The assessors visit each school and conduct a non-invasive inspection of all major building components and systems (for example, basement, foundation, and HVAC systems).
School portables, third-party leased facilities, equipment and furnishings, maintenance shops and additional administrative buildings are not assessed as part of this exercise. Currently, with 80% of the schools assessed, the Ministry is reporting a total renewal need of $14 billion, $1.7 billion deemed as critical and urgent (i.e., renewal work that should not be postponed due to risk of imminent failure).
An investment of about $1.4 billion per year based on an industry average of 2.5% of the $55 billion replacement value is estimated to be required to maintain the schools in a state of good repair. But actual annual funding in the last five years had been $150 million a year, increasing to $250 million in 2014/15 and $500 million in 2015/16.
The Ministry allocates this funding to school boards based on a percentage calculated by dividing the school boards’ individual needs by the total renewal need of $14 billion. Distributing the funding in proportion to individual school boards’ critical needs should be considered to at least ensure that the critical needs are met.
The assessments made during the first year of the condition assessment exercise are now five years old. Therefore, any further deterioration or repairs that might have been undertaken on those schools over this period have not been captured.”
Barry Steinberg is CEO of the Consulting Engineers of Ontario, which represents the interests of 200 engineering firms. He offered the following insight about how Ontario can successfully meet our future infrastructure needs in a recent Globe & Mail editorial:
“Successfully meeting Ontario’s infrastructure needs will only happen as a result of sound planning supported by consistent investment from dedicated revenue streams, not on a project-to-project basis.”