On April 4, 2016, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne took quick action on a few fronts:
- Premier Wynne also vowed to ban corporate and union donations, ending her government’s party’s practice of “cash-for-access” fundraising. Why? Because there there had been several weeks of consistent and embarrassing media coverage. Media had revealed how Wynne’s party frequently holds unpublicized, small-scale fundraisers in which corporations and lobbyists, some of whom do business with the government, pay thousands of dollars for exclusive access to Premier Wynne and her cabinet ministers over cocktails.
The lesson here? If we want to see our children’s schools fixed – we must mount more pressure on Kathleen Wynne and her government. How? We need more media attention on this topic and we must let our provincial MPPs know that we expect action on this issue.
What can you do?
- Send us photos of disrepair in schools – or videos! A picture is worth a 1,000 words.
- Share personal stories about how disrepair in schools is negatively impacting your children.
- Email or call your MPP to let them know you expect the provincial government to take action to Fix Our Schools.
- Ask others to join Fix Our Schools, either by signing up for emails at www.fixourschools.ca/joinus/ and/or by following us on Facebook
Every week, our provincial government meets to discuss its priorities. You can impact these discussions by making a simple phone call or sending an email to your MPP.
Not sure what to say? Here are some ideas:
- Ontario’s Auditor-General confirmed the Province should have allocated $7-billion over the last five years for school repairs but they only allocated $1.2-billion, creating a funding shortfall of $5.8-billion for buildings where 2-million children learn each day.
- How are you going to ensure the provincial government addresses the gross and chronic underfunding of school maintenance identified in the 2015 Auditor-General’s report?
- How are you going to ensure the $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools is addressed, especially the $1.7-billion identified as both critical and urgent?
- As a citizen, I expect the provincial government to fund schools as critical public infrastructure to ensure they are safe, well-maintained buildings.
Contact information for all Ontario MPPs
In an open letter sent on January 29, Fix Our Schools requested a coordinated response to the following three questions by February 19 from Premier Wynne, Deputy Premier Matthews, Finance Minister Sousa, Infrastructure Minister Duguid, and Education Minister Sandals:
- Will you, as a provincial government, release $1.7-billion to fix the critical and urgent disrepair the Auditor-General has confirmed exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools?
- Will you increase annual provincial funding for school maintenance to provide the $1.4-billion/year to school boards that the Auditor-General has identified is required to maintain Ontario’s publicly funded schools?
- How will you address the remaining $13.3-billion of capital repair items that provincial governments have allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools?
We received an entirely unsatisfactory response letter on the evening of February 19.
Premier Wynne and her government fail to explain how they are going to immediately address the $1.7-billion of critical and urgent disrepair that Ontario’s Auditor-General says exists in our children’s schools. Our provincial government also fails to explain how they will account for the gross and chronic underfunding of public schools in this province and ignores the question on whether they will increase annual provincial funding for school maintenance to the $1.4-billion/year that Ontario’s Auditor-General says is required to maintain our schools.
Disappointed with our provincial government’s response, Fix Our Schools will be publicly asking the three questions above yet again on Monday, February 22 at a press conference being held at Queen’s Park.
Parents continue to express concerns over disrepair in their children’s schools in this CTV piece, which aired on February 2, 2016.
“Our principals are becoming engineers,” said one parent. “They’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re working on fixing leaks on roofs.”
“Our bathrooms — there’s no privacy because the locks don’t work,” said a Grade 5 student.
“The unfortunate part is that the … physical nature of (my son’s school) is just so degraded that it’s embarrassing,” said another parent.
We had the opportunity to make this presentation, which we believe was well-received, at Queen’s Park on Feb. 2 to the Standing Committee of Finance & Economic Affairs as input to the development of this year’s provincial budget:
Do you ever wonder if giving your kids more chores will make them more responsible and mature? What if you sent them to the store with $5.00 to buy $100.00 worth of groceries and they came back with a few boxes of crackers. Would you be complaining that they didn’t buy everything on the list?
No. You would take responsibility for the fact that, with the money you gave them, they couldn’t possibly have bought $100.00 worth of groceries.
For decades, the Minister for Education of Ontario has not taken just that responsibility. Decades of extreme underfunding means we have a province full of schools with boilers about to fail, roofs leaking and issues with structural elements. The poor quality of the school buildings is affecting the learning of our next generation.
In the last 5 years, the School Boards in Ontario have been given a fraction of what is needed to keep our publicly funded schools in a state of good repair. Imagine anyone holding Ontario school boards responsible for the shocking decline in the condition of our schools when the truth is they have been grossly and chronically underfunded by our provincial government. Every parent knows it. And Premier Wynne needs to take responsibility.
We are asking the people of Ontario to urge our provincial government to prioritize schools as integral infrastructure so that school repairs get funded in the upcoming provincial budget. Together, we can send a strong message to Premier Wynne’s government by taking less than two minutes to do the following:
- Visit the Ontario Budget Talks website.
- Click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “Log in or Register”.
- Click the link that says “Create new account” and take 20 seconds to enter your personal information
- Open the email sent to you to confirm your account. Click on the link to log in, select a password and language setting, confirm your information, scroll down to bottom and click “Save”.
- Click link on upper left-hand side that says, “View all ideas”, which will take you to “Search terms”
- Search for, “Fund public schools as integral public infrastructure”.
- To support this idea, click the green “Thumbs Up” button.
- To comment on this idea, add comments in the section provided below the idea.
- Tweet using the hashtag #BudgetTalks
CTV News reported on January 22 that almost half of the 200 schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board are in critical or poor condition.
Education Minister Sandals’ response to this report is frustrating. We’ve included our rebuttal to each of her quotes below using bold italics:
“It is the board’s responsibility to keep the buildings in good repair,” Minister Liz Sandals told reporters at a news conference in Guelph. It is the provincial government’s responsibility to provide adequate funding to school boards to keep school buildings in good repair. With the levels of funding provided to school boards over the last 20 years, there is no possible way any school board could have kept its aging buildings in good repair.
“Their problem is they need to manage the money that they are receiving.” For 2015-16, Ontario School Boards are receiving less than 5% of what is needed to address their current outstanding repair backlogs. Could YOU fix $100 problem if you only had $5? Tough to be that efficient…
Sandals said the Toronto boards have greater opportunities than many other school boards in the province because they can make more money by selling schools where enrolment has dropped than in other cities, where real estate is cheaper. Selling schools takes a long time, is not always the best answer for a community (especially when Premier Wynne is actively pursuing using public assets as community hubs), and only offers a short-term and incomplete solution going forward.
Sandals said Toronto’s public board has had its funding quadrupled in the last year. If your telephone bill has $100 outstanding and last month you only paid the telephone company $2, but then quadrupled your payment this month to $8… IT STILL ISN’T ENOUGH!
She said the government has spent $13.4 billion in the last decade on new schools, retrofitted schools, additions and renewal projects. The government plans to spend another $11 billion over the next 10 years on the same expenses.
“If you add that up together, we’re looking at almost $25 billion going to school board capital. Minister Sandals is lumping together money spent on building new schools and additions with money allocated for maintaining existing schools. She is comparing apples to oranges. Only a fraction of the money required to keep our children’s schools in a state of good repair is being allocated by our provincial government and this must change if we want to see the $15-billion capital repair backlog in Ontario’s schools start to decrease … rather than continue to grow.
On January 20, 2016 CTV News aired a piece featuring the disrepair in TDSB schools. Fix Our Schools was quoted at several junctures in this piece, highlighting that the provincial government has been grossly and chronically underfunding public schools.
“If the province does not step up and increase the funding that they provide to public schools significantly we are heading to a direction where schools will become unsafe,” head of Fix Our Schools, Krista Wylie, said.
Our provincial government must take responsibility for the $15-billion of disrepair that has accumulated in Ontario’s schools. The 2015 Auditor-General’s report confirmed that $1.4 billion per year is needed to maintain Ontario schools in a state of good repair. However, actual annual funding in the last five years has ranged from only $150 million to $500 million. This gross underfunding of school infrastructure by our provincial government means that an unacceptable level of disrepair has accumulated in our public schools and will continue to worsen…unless funding solutions are found.
One avenue for new funding sources would be for the provincial government to change O. Reg 20/98, which guides the collection and use of Education Development Charges (EDCs). The existing regulation is now antiquated and prevents many school boards from receiving money from new condo/housing/commercial developments within that board. Furthermore, the existing regulation only allows school boards to use EDC money for purchasing new land – not for building new schools or building new additions or repairing existing schools.
Therefore, in Fix Our Schools’ Submission to the Ministry’s 2016/17 Funding Consultation, we recommended that the Ministry of Education change O. Reg 20/98 so that every School Board can benefit financially from new residential and commercial development within its boundaries; and can use Education Development Charges (EDCs) for repairs, capital projects, or purchasing new land.
All 72 publicly funded School Boards in the province face capital repair backlogs, for a total of over $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario schools. The $11-billion in capital grants to School Boards over ten years that Premier Wynne and her government have committed is simply insufficient to address this issue. New funding solutions must be found. Given the ease with which a provincial regulation can be changed, when are Premier Wynne and Education Minister Sandals going to prioritize changing Regulation 20/98 as a new potential revenue source for many school boards in this province? Certainly, EDCs do not hold the potential to be the complete solution… but any new funding for school infrastructure in this province would be beneficial!
The two million children who attend Ontario public schools deserve safe, well-maintained schools that are conducive to learning, as do the adults who work in these buildings every day.