Our schools are valuable public assets. They help set the prices for homes in our neighbourhoods. They set the standard by which our children are able to thrive. They are central parts of our communities and their health affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly. Letting them fall in disrepair to the tune of $15 billion across Ontario, like the provincial government has done, is letting our communities down and putting our kids at risk.
Just recently at Derrydown Public School, multiple news sources reported an incident where three children were injured as workers were doing repairs to the school’s roof. Tar dripped down through the ceiling on children below during gym class. Two children were taken to hospital, but thankfully, they are expected to do fine.
The larger issue is that this is not an isolated incident. A website called www.fixourschools.ca details some of the incidents: scaffolding injuring a child; another child suffering cuts due to lack of lunchroom supervision; a railing in a playground giving way and resulting in a child breaking her wrist; the list goes on. These are recent incidents that speak to the backlog of disrepair and to the larger issue of inadequate funding for our public schools. Moneys needed for emergency repairs have been taken away by more immediate operational budget needs in our schools for years. This ultimately affects the quality of education in our classrooms over time as the budget gets tighter with the growing backlog of repairs. Today we have less specialized assistants to deal with children that need one-on-one help, we have fewer lunchroom supervisors, and parents are increasingly asked to fundraise more and more to fill in gaps.
In the 1990s, the Progressive Conservative government gave developers a tax break by structuring development fees in such a way that they would no longer have to contribute toward new schools in school boards like the TDSB. As a result of this, new construction projects in the City of Toronto have not led to more investments in public schools. This system has been maintained by the current Liberal government, despite their protestations about investments in our schools. Ultimately, developers saved hundreds of millions of dollars through this tax cut in Toronto. The tax cut reduced the funding school boards depended on for capital investments and, as a result, schools in Toronto have millions of dollars worth of disrepair despite the longest continuous real estate boom in Canadian history. The repair work that does take place is often done in case of emergencies, rather than to systematically maintain buildings in a financially responsible way.
We can all change this.
There are two million school children in Ontario. Our city is growing and we need to ensure that our schools are safe places of learning and that we invest in the public assets that we all own so that they can be used by future generations.