Besides the obvious risk this puts our kids in, it’s reckless to put this priority on a backburner. It deserves government’s immediate action.
The Wynne government’s budgetary deficit struggles are well documented. Despite all the attention this issue has been getting, there are other deficits amassing that haven’t received any scrutiny whatsoever.
Instead, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s strategy is to get in front of as many cameras as possible for photo-ops announcing half-funding to appease the organizations demanding them on behalf of millions of taxpayers.
This week, the Ontario government announced $1.2 billion in new funding towards badly needed repairs and renovations for the aging, and in some cases crumbling, public schools around the province.
While $1.2 billion sounds impressive, the figure is actually dwarfed by the amount of money our public schools require. According to the latest estimates posted by the non-partisan Fix Our Schools campaign, the repair/renovation deficit for Ontario schools is $15 billion – and growing.
Like any asset, our schools need to be kept in good repair to be useful. Yet when the government and school board doesn’t budget for these costs, small manageable repairs can deteriorate into complex and expensive issues.
By deferring these costs the problems have compounded. School boards are finding that, in many cases, it’s cheaper to close a neighbourhood public school than make the necessary repairs.
Although the lands the shuttered schools are located on are public property, the public school board has successfully lobbied the province to allow the board to sell these properties to the highest bidder. In the past, the land would have been given to the separate school board or the French school system, both of which are building new schools to keep up with growing enrolment demands. Public school boards have promised the province the proceeds of a sale of a closed school will be ear-marked for repairing and renovating other schools.
Selling off schools is not a long-term solution either. In 2014, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) identified approximately 130 schools that were operating below 65 per cent capacity and could be considered for closure. Even if the TDSB sold all of these schools today, the board will still need an additional $1 billion to close its repair/renovation funding gap.
Leaking roofs, structural beams rusting, asbestos in the ceiling: these are just a few of the types of faults that our public schools need to address to make them safe for student learning. This is to say nothing of the schools where children regularly wear winter coats in class just to stay warm in January, or kids and teachers who struggle with heat waves during June.
The reality is that while the Wynne government is putting the province in massive deficit to fund new infrastructure, it’s avoiding fixing current public spaces that serve great need to our communities.
A Band-Aid solution isn’t a real one. Partially funding a big problem – something that governments are famous for – is only a symbolic measure. In this case, providing safe accommodations for students and educators and ensuring our resources are in top condition is a no-brainer.
Wynne announcing a $1.2 billion fix for a $15-billion problem simply emphasizes what her government is all about: deficits.
Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.