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.
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
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.
In October 2005, TDSB Staff wrote and presented “Schools for the Future: A 10 Year Facility Infrastructure Plan for the TDSB”, which painted a dire picture of the state of disrepair in TDSB schools and even suggested that schools may need to close due to disrepair.
Sections 2.2.1 & 2.2.2 of this report, “Current and Forecast Conditions of TDSB Facilities”, read as follows: “Putting off necessary renewal projects, year in and year out, has created a growing and costly backlog. There’s an increasing demand for facility maintenance and repairs as a result of deteriorating facility conditions. The numbers of calls for emergencies and unanticipated breakdowns are increasing. Requests for repairs account for 80% of work orders, while preventive maintenance now represents only 20% of work orders. The normal average wait time for maintenance requests is seven weeks. The Ministry of Education recognized the need for additional funding to correct deficiencies in building conditions. Increased funding for building renewal was distributed through a Ministry program called ‘Good Places to Learn.’ This renewal funding only temporarily halted the trend of deteriorating facility conditions. At the current level (2005) of renewal funding of $44 million annually, the condition of TDSB buildings will continue to decline rapidly, making it increasingly difficult to keep schools open.”
Almost ten years have passed since this report was prepared and TDSB schools continue to deteriorate. Although provincial funding for school repairs has increased since 2005 to $75-million/year for 2014/15 and will increase to $156-million in the 2015/16 school year, the money received by the TDSB to address the $3.3-billion of disrepair in its schools is still insufficient. To date, no TDSB schools have closed due to safety issues but one wonders what the next ten years will hold.
From Krista, parent of two children at Runnymede P.S., TDSB:
One day this winter, my grade three son told me about an interesting science experiment his class had done at school. Students had been given thermometers to measure the temperature of various classrooms in the school.
His response when I asked him what the temperature had been in his classroom?
“Twelve degrees celsius.”
When I commented that twelve degrees was pretty cold, he replied, “It’s OK Mom, we’ve been wearing our winter coats in class this past week.”
It is certainly NOT OK to have to wear winter coats while trying to learn and teach – but I admire the resilience of my son and his teacher to continue to learn and teach despite the learning and working conditions!
The Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) is the Toronto-local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and represents more than 11,000 elementary teachers (K-8) employed by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
John Smith, President of the ETT, said in interviews and a press release this week that the goal of current negotiations with elementary teachers is “building better schools.” He went on to say that, “We’re talking about class sizes. We’re talking about the loss of special education teachers. We’re talking about school buildings that need repair.”
Great to hear that disrepair in school buildings is being talked about in this labour negotiation! Students and teachers deserve to learn and work in safe, well-maintained buildings.
Fix Our Schools often hears from both parents and students about how disgusting the washrooms can be at TDSB schools. Some parents say their children actually refuse to go to the washroom while at school. Looking at these photos, one can understand why! Would you go to the washroom if it looked like this?
Despite excellent efforts by caretakers to keep these washrooms clean and useable, with the current funding allocations by the provincial government, the photos you see here are the end result.
Consider a 100-year old school that is also overcapacity by 200 students (there are 146 TDSB schools that are overcapacity). No extra funds are allocated for caretakers at that school to deal with the extra mess created by those 200 extra students. No additional funds are provided to account for the fact that old buildings are harder to clean than new ones (the caretakers at Runnymede P.S. painstakingly polish the 99-year old linoleum floors and, although we know they are the cleaner for their efforts, the floors really don’t look much different than they did before!) So this blog post is certainly not intended to point fingers at caretakers who work hard and take pride in the important role they play in our children’s schools.
This blog post is meant to highlight the fact that these washrooms are, indeed, disgusting and surely to goodness our children deserve to have washrooms in their place of learning that are well-maintained, clean and USEABLE!
The work that would need to be done to bring these washrooms to a USEABLE state is not included in the TDSB’s $3.3-billion repair backlog we hear about all the time. The shocking $3.3-billion repair backlog only includes really serious work to be done on our children’s schools – such as fixing leaking roofs, replacing broken boilers and addressing structural concerns. So unless Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government works with school boards to find new funding solutions for public schools, many washrooms will continue to be disgusting.
Fix Our Schools was copied on a letter that Donna Spreitzer, the Director of Jackman Community Daycare, wrote to Premier Wynne, Education Minister Sandals, and Deputy Minister Zegarac. Jackman Community Daycare operates within Jackman Avenue Public School, a TDSB school located near Broadview and Danforth that was built in 1963 – a relatively new building compared to the many TDSB schools.
In her letter to the Province, Ms. Spreitzer states that one section of the roof has been leaking for over five years – with a bucket in the stairwell serving as a constant reminder of the neglect to this school building. She outlines that over the 20 years she’s been affiliated with Jackman Avenue Public School, the school’s infrastructure seems to have been in constant need of repair. Ms. Spreitzer urges our provincial government to “Act now. This cannot wait!” Indeed, this is an urgent issue that Kathleen Wynne’s government must address now since her government is responsible for providing funding to public schools in this province.
As per the TDSB Repair Backlog Clock on Trustee Lister’s home page, the repair backlog at the TDSB is estimated to be growing at an astonishing rate of $1.4-million each day at the current level of funding from the Province. The money being received to take care of school buildings is simply insufficient and, at this rate, the TDSB repair backlog will have grown from $3.3-Billion to $4.36-Billion by 2017. By August 6, 2015, the TDSB’s backlog is estimated to have grown to $3.5-Billion. Fix Our Schools agrees wholeheartedly with Ms. Spreitzer’s sentiments: this cannot wait.
In a letter to Barbara Hall and the TDSB Governance Panel, Michael Barrett – President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association expresses concern about the consultations conducted by this panel and raises many excellent points:
- Good governance can only be successful if roles and responsibilities are clearly understood, which extends beyond the board of trustees and their chair and must include the director of education and senior team members.
- A school board is an organic, interactive entity and each time that dynamic changes through the election of even one new trustee, a new board is formed, bringing with it a new dynamic that influences the trustee team. (note: in Fall 2014, eleven new TDSB Trustees were elected out of 22 so this new board represents a very new dynamic!)
- Trustees are the crucial link between the school board and their local community. Trustees are of the community; they generally live in their communities, know their community and advocate for their community. There is local control that ensures a centralized bureaucracy does not lose sight of varied and diverse communities.
- Trustees serve as advocates, as ombudsmen, as originators of ideas, as guideposts and hold both the government and staff accountable. Advocacy for a mental health strategy, a coordinated ministry approach to education and services, for equity within aboriginal education and funding, fairness in special education funding, inclusiveness and technology in the classroom are a few of the ways that trustees make a difference.
- Trustees do not do this for the money. (NOTE: The role of Trustee is paid as a part-time position and a TDSB Trustee earns about $26,000/year) The honorarium has been frozen since 2006. Elected trustees are devoted to public education and want to make changes to improve the system for all children.
- Trustees contribute long hours attending committee and board meetings, reading and reviewing board/ministry correspondence and interacting with their constituents in a variety of ways (email, face to face, telephone and public meetings).
- Trustees are interpreters and messengers for government initiatives. They provide and allow for local perspectives. They help families navigate complex rules to get children the support they need from their schools. They initiate innovative and effective programs that improve student achievement and well-being.
- A school trustee is a member of a team – the board of trustees. Only the board of trustees has the authority to make decisions or to take action. A chair of the board of trustees is chosen by the board of trustees as someone they are proud to have as a leader who represents them. Although the chair assumes a leadership role, it is important that he or she adheres to the board’s directions and not act unilaterally.
- The director of education must display excellence as an educational leader, to be politically sophisticated, to be aware of and active in legislative developments, to have an extensive knowledge of relevant provincial laws, to be an exemplary educator, and to personify effective communication.
- The elected trustee board’s most influential governance relationship is the relationship they have with the director of education. A trusting, respectful and cooperative relationship between the board of trustees and the director of education and a mutual understanding of their distinct roles lead to effective policy implementation.
- Trustees and school boards are doing amazing and wonderful things all across the province.
An equipment failure shut down Toronto’s entire subway system on Monday, June 8 and impacted over 100,000 riders. This shutdown certainly highlighted how integral the TTC is to our City’s infrastructure. CEO Andy Byford said that $2.7-billion is needed to complete all the work that needs to be done, pointing out that none of this work is of the “nice to have” variety.
Surely, the same could be said of the $14.7-billion of outstanding repairs in Ontario public schools. None of the repairs to roofs, boilers, fire systems and structural elements of children’s schools are simply “nice to have” – they are all things we need to be doing. Disrepair in schools impacts students and teachers every single day. Ceilings leak, causing some children to slip and hurt themselves. Boilers break down, leading some students and teachers to wear winter coats as they try to learn and teach. Lead is discovered in water, meaning students and teachers cannot drink safely from school water supplies. Stairs crumble in front of fire exit doors, placing children and teachers at risk. Luckily, most of what happens inside these Ontario public schools is pretty great and, as a result, most children head home happy each day. But one does wonder what would have to occur to highlight the funding needs of public schools across this province…and to highlight how integral public schools are to public infrastructure?
On May 26, 2015 in the Ontario Legislature, Education Critic MPP Lisa Gretzky noted that while the provincial government sets the priorities for education in Ontario, this same government is quick to limit its accountability whenever issues arise.
The TDSB Governance Panel was cited as a perfect example of how the provincial government refuses to take responsibility for the delivery of quality education in this province. This panel was formed by the Province to examine governance issues at the TDSB, yet failed to include the provincial government’s critical role in the overall governance and funding of the TDSB.
After citing the TDSB Governance Panel example, MPP Gretzky says, “Well, Speaker, Ontarians are quick to catch on. A letter to the minister from an organization called Fix Our Schools,…, reads as follows—it was dated April 13, 2015.” She then proceeds to read to the Ontario Legislature the letter that close to 100 Fix Our Schools subscribers have sent to Premier Wynne, Minister Sandals and Deputy Minister Zegarac. She tells her colleagues at the Legislature that every week she is copied on similar letters to the Premier demanding that her government take responsibility for the chaos they are creating in Ontario schools. See page 3 of the official report of debates to see where the Fix Our Schools campaign is cited.