20 Nov Toronto Board Wants Developer Levies Used to Fix Aging Schools
The repair backlog for crumbling Toronto public schools rose by $200 million over the last year, prompting the board to call for new rules that would require developers to help pay the bills.
The tally to fix furnaces, roofs, windows and other repairs at the Toronto District School Board’s 584 schools climbed to a whopping $3.7 billion in September from $3.5 billion last year, the TDSB reported Friday.
Despite improved funding from the province over the last few years, the $297 million for the current school year “is not enough to keep pace with the accumulated backlog and future repair needs,” said a statement from the board.
Without “adequate and predictable school funding for school repairs,” the board projected the bill will reach $5.25 billion by 2021.
The news comes amid a campaign launched recently by parents, trustees and local politicians urging the province to loosen rules on how boards qualify for education development charges (EDCs) levied on builders to pay for school buildings, and how those funds can be spent.
The TDSB is one of the few boards in the province currently blocked from collecting the levies, available only to boards that are fully enrolled. Unlike the Toronto Catholic board and most others in the province, the TDSB is ineligible because schools in parts of the city are currently under capacity.
Trustees and local politicians argue the charges amount to millions of dollars a year in potential revenue, and say builders should be contributing towards the cost of schools that attract buyers to their new properties.
A new funding strategy and sources of revenue are urgently needed to address the aging school buildings, chair Robin Pilkey said in a statement.
“Allowing the TDSB access to education development charges to repair and replace schools would be a good start.”
Based on units planned and under construction, the board says those charges — currently generating about $1,400 per residential unit for the Toronto Catholic District School Board — could provide $300 million for TDSB schools.
Recently a group of parents and trustees in Willowdale, frustrated by overcrowded classrooms and kids being bused out of area, held a public forum with Education Minister Mitzie Hunter asking the government to change the rules and allow TDSB to collect the charges. And this week City Council passed a motion echoing that request.
Councillor Mike Layton told the Star it makes no sense to penalize students in fast-growing neighbourhoods simply because schools elsewhere have space. It’s unfair the public board can’t get funds from a booming development industry while the Catholic board can, he added.
But the Catholic board is also handcuffed because EDCs can only be used to purchase land and buildings, which are hard to come by in Toronto. That board currently has enough eligible funds to buy 89 acres of land — but no place to buy it.
That’s why there’s also growing demand to loosen restrictions and allow urban boards, who have to build up rather than out, to use the money for additions and renovations.
Advocates like Krista Wylie of the lobby group Fix Our Schools welcome the pressure on the government to change those rules at a time when schools across the province face a collective repair backlog of $15.9 billion.
The trend at the TDSB “corroborates at a local school board level that the increased funding from the province is not enough, and that’s what we’re seeing across the province,” Wylie said.
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