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Old schools need new money

chart depicting various school information in the leaside areaAs a community we want our schools to be healthy, well-maintained places of learning for our students. The maintenance and upgrading of our schools is a serious challenge faced by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). But this was not always the case.

As your trustee, I represent portions of three former school boards – East York, North York and Toronto. In 1998, these boards amalgamated to form the TDSB. I must say that, at the time of amalgamation, Leaside schools, although old, were in good shape. This would be in contrast to former Toronto schools, which had severe facility deficiencies.

There is another important difference between pre- and post-amalgamation. Today, all money for repairs and renewal comes from the provincial government through grants. Pre-amalgamation school boards levied taxes.

Over the years I have seen a deterioration of many of our schools. It’s true that this past year the provincial government provided the TDSB with a significant boost in grants for maintenance. For this we are grateful. However, it is not enough.

All our schools have been inspected by a third party hired by the provincial government. It has been determined that the TDSB has a $3.4-billion backlog of repairs and maintenance. This situation is dire, and it requires a new approach from the provincial government to address the problem.

On the websites of each school you will find the Facilities Condition Index. I’ve included some information above about our local schools that you may find interesting. I want to emphasize that all our schools are safe. The health and well-being of our staff and students are not compromised, and the board addresses urgent safety needs immediately.

To address the considerable maintenance deficit, the TDSB advocates a change to the provincial Education Development Charges (EDCs) legislation. Currently, the law mandates that EDCs can only be used for the purchase of land to support schools in growth areas. We are asking that school boards be allowed to access and use these funds for renovations, repairs and much-needed upgrades. This could mean, for example, that developers would have to contribute to school repair and upgrades.

This change is needed throughout Toronto and especially in high residential growth areas such as ours.

Overlooking EDCs as a potential source to fund badly-needed school repairs is a lost opportunity. With access to EDCs for school repairs, millions of dollars in desperately needed revenue could be used to accelerate school repairs and renovations or replacement of older schools.

As we look to the future, we must assure that our children learn in well maintained and up-to-date school buildings.

Gerri Gershon is the Trustee, Don Valley West, for the Toronto District School Board