Tag Archives: TDSB

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.

 

If you’re surprised by the disrepair in your local school…

The TDSB was the first Ontario school board to release information about disrepair in all of its schools, with complete itemized lists of outstanding repairs along with an indication of whether each repair is urgent, high, medium or low priority. We expect that many citizens will be surprised to see the long lists of outstanding repairs at their local schools.

We urge you to contact your local MPP, the Minister of Education and Premier Wynne to express your concern. Certainly copy the Principal, Superintendent and Trustee for your local school on any correspondence however these people do not have the power to fix the problem, which stems from years of underfunding by the provincial government.

Local school boards have no way to raise money for repairing schools except to rely on the funding provided by the Ontario government. While provincial funding was recently increased to an industry-accepted level of yearly funding for repairs, this new level of funding does not address the $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario schools that has been allowed to accumulate over the past two decades. To adequately address this backlog will require further work by Premier Wynne’s government so be sure to let your MPP know this is an issue of importance to you!

TDSB first to make disrepair information public for each of its schools

Fix Our Schools commends the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for taking a leadership position and being the first school board in Ontario to voluntarily publish detailed information on the disrepair in each of its 588 schools.

The Ministry of Education has been collecting data on outstanding repairs at all Ontario schools for the past five years but has not shared this important information publicly. Our hope is that all of Ontario’s school boards will follow TDSB’s lead and become more transparent with disrepair information since every single one of them has a repair backlog. Similarly, we would expect the Ontario government to make information on disrepair in schools readily available to parents and citizens.

Only when the general public knows there is a problem can the problem be fixed. For too long and for a variety of reasons, the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools has not received much attention. Therefore, this step by the TDSB is a crucial one in raising awareness on the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

By visiting the TDSB website and clicking School Repairs List or by visiting the TDSB Home Page for an individual school, parents and citizens can readily find:

  • a complete list of outstanding repairs for a school along with a ranking of whether the repair is classified as urgent, high, medium or low
  • a Facility Condition Index (FCI) number, expressed as a percentage. FCI is calculated by taking the total dollar amount of a school’s repair backlog and dividing that total by the dollar figure of how much it would cost to replace that school (rebuild from new). For instance if there is $1-million of disrepair at a school and the estimated cost of rebuilding that school is $5-million, then the FCI would be 20% whereas if that same school had $4-million of disrepair, then its FCI ranking would be 80%. A higher FCI percentage generally indicates a larger dollar value of disrepair at that school.

 

Lots of work done over the summer at Ontario public schools!

According to TDSB Ward 11 Trustee Shelley Laskin’s recent e-newsletter, lots of work has happened this past summer to improve the state of TDSB schools, including 118 roofing projects across TDSB schools since March. If you have examples of work that was done at schools near you – no matter where you live in Ontario – please share with us.

Below is a detailed list of the many facilities projects that were completed in TDSB Ward 11 schools over the summer, which is just a small glimpse into all the facilities projects that were completed across all 72 Ontario public school boards:

  • JR Wilcox received solar panels on its roof.
  • Renovations to increase the number of available classrooms were undertaken at Brown, Deer Park and McMurrich.
  • The field was re-sodded at Davisville and the turf was repaired at Maurice Cody.
  • Brick work was done at Deer Park
  • Stairs were repaired at McMurrich as well as at Northern.
  • Northern also had issues with its hot water tanks and they are being replaced.
  • FHCI had its pool repaired and significant repairs to the pool at Deer Park should be completed by the end of October.
  • Caretaking staff worked diligently over the summer cleaning and polishing and mowing.

A good reminder that a lot of work does get done over the summer at our children’s schools! Still a lot to do to deal with $15-billion of needed repairs in Ontario’s public schools but encouraging to hear specific projects nonetheless.

TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey on Community Hubs

On August 10, the provincially appointed Advisory Group led by Karen Pitre issued a report entitled, “Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan”.

On August 12, the TDSB elected new Chair Robin Pilkey, who made the following comments about the Community Hubs report in her acceptance speech:

Just this week, we have received the report and recommendations of the Premier’s Community Hubs Framework Advisory Group. At first glance, the advisory group seems headed in the right direction. The TDSB has been a leader in creating community hubs in our schools.

But our experience tells us that the promise of community hubs will require radical change in provincial funding to support community services and activities in schools. 

The report is also a reminder to all of our community partners that where and when it makes sense to close or sell a school, the TDSB must receive fair compensation as we continue to face pressing needs to repair our schools and in some cases build more school space where enrolment is booming.

That being said, the TDSB looks forward to participating in the creation of a new provincial framework for the community use of schools.

CTV features growing TDSB repair backlog

CTV featured August 14 as a “sad day for the TDSB” – the day when the repair backlog in its schools grew to exceed $3.5-billion.  Trustee Ken Lister has been tracking the growing repair backlog on his website and CTV felt it was important to highlight this issue (again!) for its viewers to mark this “dubious milestone”. CTV approached Fix Our Schools for photos of disrepair so you may see a photo that you sent to us in the TV clip.

What was not included in the TV clip above were a lot of the details below – which didn’t make it to air!

The Province provides the funding for maintaining schools. Under their watch, $3.5-billion of disrepair has accumulated in TDSB schools and $15-billion of disrepair has accumulated in public schools across the province. Every single one of Ontario’s 72 school boards has a repair backlog.

– While many people blame Principals and Trustees for the disrepair in our schools, the funding for maintaining schools comes from our provincial government. School boards must strive to be as efficient and effective as possible with the money provided by the Province. However, over the past 20 years, there simply has not been sufficient money provided by our provincial government to ensure our public schools are kept in good repair.

In 2014-15, the province provided only $2.27 to the TDSB for every $100 of repairs needed. No matter how efficient or effective a school board is, there is simply no way that $100 of disrepair can be fixed with $2.27!

– For 2015-16, the Province has substantially increased its funding to school boards for maintenance, acknowledging that the $15-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s public schools is a problem. However, even with this large increase in funding, TDSB Trustees and Staff will have to figure out how to fix $3.5-billion of repairs with about $156-million – the equivalent of less than $5 for every $100 of much-needed repairs. This is clearly an impossible task and so the repair backlog in our children’s schools will continue to grow.

The time is now for the Province to acknowledge public schools as a critical part of our societal infrastructure and start working with school boards to find ongoing, sustainable sources of funding to ensure that children and communities benefit from public schools that are well-maintained.

New TDSB Chair sees collaboration as key

Robin Pilkey, a Professional Chartered Accountant, became Chair of Canada’s largest school board this week. She is optimistic about the TDSB’s ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead and sees collaboration – with TDSB Staff, with the Province, and with parents – as key.

In her acceptance speech on August 12, Pilkey noted that TDSB Trustees have a responsibility to work closely with TDSB Staff to deliver high quality education in a financially responsible manner. Pilkey also mentioned the importance of the TDSB’s relationship with the provincial government, noting that the Province must work with the TDSB to ensure a sustainable financial base for our public education system. The Ward 7 Trustee also noted the importance of parent advocacy, citing the parent-led Fix Our Schools campaign as having made an incredible contribution towards the improvement of provincial funding for school repairs.

Trustees: “Perhaps no political office is more important”

Sachin Maharaj is a PhD student in educational policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto and is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board. She wrote the following opinion piece for the Toronto Star, which was published August 6:

Kim Campbell, Mike Harris, Kathleen Wynne, and Olivia Chow. What do all of these politicians have in common? They are members of a long and ever-growing list of former school trustees who left their school boards for other (some would say higher) political office.

And now you can add Shaun Chen, the chair of the Toronto District School Board, to that list. Chen recently resigned his post as leader of Canada’s largest school board, less than a year after assuming the position, in order to run for the Liberals in the upcoming federal election. And trustees don’t just leave for Ottawa. Both Toronto City Hall and Queen’s Park contain several former school trustees. So why is it that so many people abandon their jobs as school trustees and instead seem to use the position as a political launching pad?

One big reason is that despite being structured by the province as a quasi-volunteer position, being a good school trustee is a lot of work. According to my own recent study, the average school trustee in Ontario spends about 20 hours per week responding to parent concerns, visiting schools, attending parent councils, on top of official board and committee meetings.

In large school boards, like the TDSB, this time commitment extends to over 30 hours per week. But despite requiring the hours of between half to three-quarters of a full-time job, trustees are paid a pittance. The average trustee in Ontario gets paid $11,468, which works out to around minimum wage on an hourly basis. Is it any wonder then that so many leave?

Of course some critics might say that trustees are not expected to subsist on the meagre compensation they receive, but are instead expected to have other full-time employment. But given the time demands of the role, most trustees report that this is “almost impossible.” Indeed, only one-third of school trustees are employed full-time. As one trustee put it, “I could not do this job if I were employed professionally.” Another indicated that they had “left a part time-job due to time commitment as trustee.” And as most of a trustee’s work takes place in the evenings, this can take a toll on family life as well. One trustee sadly recounted, “My children miss me. I rarely see them in the evenings during the week.”

But another reason that many trustees leave is due to increased feelings of impotence, as provincial governments of all stripes have stripped away more and more of their autonomy.

It started when the Harris government removed the ability of school boards to levy tax increases to fund local needs. While this benefited smaller, rural school boards with less ability to raise money, it has been a disaster for the TDSB, which currently faces a repair backlog of over $3 billion. The Wynne government continued this trend of undermining school boards with the introduction of Regulation 274, which removed the ability of boards to hire the best teachers. Indeed, in a recent survey of over 2,000 principals from across Ontario, over 94 per cent stated that Regulation 274 had prevented them from hiring teachers that best meet the needs of their school and its students.

So if we want to attract the highest quality candidates as school trustees, and prevent them from jumping ship, the solution is obvious. We need to pay trustees well, treat them with respect and give them the autonomy they require to best serve the students in their communities.

Then perhaps more people will be school trustees solely because they care about the job, instead of seeing it as a stepping stone. And given that the job of school trustees is overseeing the education of our children, perhaps no political office is more important.

“School should be a second home to students – not a place where boilers break down, ceilings fall in and toilets break”

From Spencer Higdon-McGreal, Grade 12 TDSB Student at Ursula Franklin: 

In school there are many things students learn to adapt to: peer pressure, the stress of looming deadlines, the anticipation of summer break and, trying to stay focused while your school is crumbling around you. For many students in the Toronto District School Board, decay and subsequent lack of working mechanics, electronics, structure is known all too well. As a grade 12 student, I have been in three different schools over a span of 14 years: Garden Ave. P.S. for JK-Grade 6, Fern Ave. P.S. for Grade 7-8 and Ursula Franklin Academy for Grades 9-12. I’ve seen first-hand how desperately our schools need repairs.

For the past four years at my high school I cannot remember a winter when our boiler didn’t break at least once, sometimes for multiple days, leaving students freezing and unable to focus. Now this is a big enough problem on its own, but when I add the fact that this happened almost every winter over my 14 years at school it become inexcusable! I remember a couple of years ago sitting in a classroom with every student and the teacher, wearing their outdoor winter clothing. No one was able to focus during the whole class – we certainly struggled to take notes while wearing gloves!

School should be a second home to students, not a place where boilers break down, ceilings fall in, and toilets break! Today’s students are tomorrow’s future leaders and contributors, and they need and deserve the best education they can get. With the enormous amount of problems in our schools, students aren’t given the best. The Ontario government can do better, and must do better.

When will TDSB Governance Panel issue recommendations?

Fix Our Schools sent the following letter to the TDSB Governance Panel on Monday, July 13:

Dear TDSB Governance Panel,

We continue to be concerned that the TDSB Governance Panel did not consider how provincial funding and provincial policies impact the governance of the TDSB. Upon reading the scathing review of Donna Quan’s leadership by Margaret Wilson, among others, in Friday’s Globe & Mail, we are also concerned that the TDSB Governance consultations did not examine the important role that leadership plays in TDSB’s governance. Instead, the TDSB Governance consultations focused primarily on the role of TDSB Trustees and the size of the TDSB.

Given these concerns, we are anxious to hear your panel’s recommendations. Could you kindly let us know the date when you plan to issue those recommendations to Minister Sandals?

The Fix Our Schools campaign represents a large and growing number of parents in Toronto who want to see safe, well-maintained public schools. Of course, these same parents are also interested in good governance. However, every one of Ontario’s 72 public school boards has a capital repair backlog for a total of $14.7-billion, which suggests that something in the overall governance of public education in this province is simply not working and that additional funding sources must be found.

We trust that any recommendations made by the TDSB Governance Panel will:

• get to the heart of the issues at the TDSB

• respect the fact that this new board of Trustees has had scant time to actually govern

• keep the best interests of TDSB students and families in mind

Kind regards,

Krista Wylie – On Behalf of Fix Our Schools

Fix Our Schools will keep subscribers posted on what we hear back from the TDSB Governance Panel about their recommendations.