2014 TDSB Election: Ward 11 – St. Paul’s

The Incumbent:

Shelley Laskin

The Race

Incumbent Trustee Shelley Laskin is up for re-election this year. Her responses to our survey were thoughtful and showed willingness to explore and commit to responsible private partnerships and fiscal responsibility at the TDSB. It must be noted that one candidate, Kristian Chartier, quite correctly identified savings that could be found by reducing the premium paid to the Skilled Trades Council. Overall, the ballot choices in this ward are of a good quality.

The Breakdown

  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Establish up-front quality standards and pricing benchmarks. Demand TDSB not include 0.5% premium in Skilled Trades Council contract. Limit sole-source supplies to one or two years.
    Henick, Mark Push for comprehensive and independent governance review.
    Laskin, Shelley Board has balanced budget and achieved this through significant spending reductions. Hard decisions I supported. Advocate for TDSB to receive fair share of funding.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Transition from paper to digital textbooks. Bring TDSB salaries in line with provincial average. Pursue Public-Private partnerships. Remove premium paid to Skilled Trades Council. Close under-performing cafeterias.
    Henick, Mark Ensure products and services are acquired below market rate. Explore technological solutions for savings. Existing contracts, materials, and staff should be used more efficiently.
    Laskin, Shelley Shared services with other school boards, the city, municipalities. Focus on core business. Continue to provide service in a more cost effective way. Look at what other Boards are doing to control costs. Assess the education funding available.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian No
    Henick, Mark No
    Laskin, Shelley No


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Fight for the right of students with exceptionalities to participate in fully integrated classrooms.
    Henick, Mark Give students ownership of their community to provide opportunities to help and be helped.
    Laskin, Shelley Efforts need to be shared and coordinated between the TDSB, youth ministries, and health care.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Take a more rigorous approach to capital management through strategic development plans. Use project managers for major capital projects to avoid cost over-runs.
    Henick, Mark Explore innovative partnerships and revenue sources. Evaluate salaries and smarter deployment of personnel. Address occupational and psychological health of staff.
    Laskin, Shelley It's a hard decision to finally make permanent reductions in spending but it should be done to bring the board closer to operating sustainability.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Move to a more centralized purchasing approach. Hire independent experts who can better evaluate proposals.
    Henick, Mark Triaging work in a more intentional way. Contracts, services, and supplies must be priced and purchased competitively.
    Laskin, Shelley Responsible ways of raising capital dollars whether through solar panels, redevelopment projects, or partnerships.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Will consider
    Henick, Mark Yes
    Laskin, Shelley Yes


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Leverage the value of technological learning tools. Reduce overall staffing costs.
    Henick, Mark The Board should be transparent up front for negotiations to happen in good faith.
    Laskin, Shelley Stay within the framework the Ministry is prepared to fund.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian The 0.5% premium must not be renewed. End rent-free office space to trade union.
    Henick, Mark Smarter deployment of staff across the board and a culture of fiscal responsibility.
    Laskin, Shelley Need the flexibility to use dollars in the most efficient way whileproviding a fair and equitable workplace and work environment for our employees.


  • Candidate Response
    Chartier, Kristian Trustees must post itemized expense reports. Establishing transparency for spending will set the tone for change. Must use measurement and control systems.
    Henick, Mark Strengthened reporting and monitoring of costs. A more nimble auditing process.
    Laskin, Shelley Continue to assess whether we are using dollars effectively.

 

The full responses

  • 1. Evidence suggests the TDSB was warned in 2006 about spending problems. Previous Chair Chris Bolton chose to ignore these warnings until his resignation. Going forward, how would you address the issue of over-spending at the school board?

    The spending problems recently reported at the TDSB are the product of a culture of entitlement and negligence. The board repeatedly ignored warnings and chose to perpetuate the status quo, rather than acting with purpose and decisiveness. As a trustee, I would immediately implement the following measures in order to reign in spending:
    • Establish up-front quality standards and pricing benchmarks for all purchases — Quite simply, if an organization does not know what it should be paying for a service, then it is most likely overpaying.
    • Demand that the TDSB not include the 0.5% premium in its upcoming contract with the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council
    • Limit sole-source for supplies and services to one or two years. At the end of the period, the contract will need to be re-tendered- It’s important to maintain strong vendor relationships, but an over-reliance on sole-source contracts invariably leads to overspending.

    2. The TDSB has been faced with a difficult decision about potentially selling school properties. To avoid this, where would you find savings in future budgets? List your top five specific priorities for savings.

    • Champion the transition from paper to digital textbooks — Digital textbooks cost 66% less than paper  textbooks and have been consistently shown to produce better learning outcomes. Rather than purchasing entirely new books, schools can simply update their subscriptions to ensure that students always have access to the most current edition of their texts. Even after factoring in one-time startup costs, such as the purchase of tablets and e-readers are factored in, numerous school districts in the US  have demonstrated significant cost savings by adopting digital textbooks.
    • Bring TDSB teacher salaries in line with the provincial average — Teacher salaries account for 83% of the entire TDSB budget. While I believe that attracting talented teachers requires a competitive compensation package, it seems only logical that they should be paid as close to the provincial average as possible, while taking Toronto’s cost of living into account.
    • Reduce capital costs by pursuing Public-Private Partnerships — North Toronto Collegiate is an excellent example of how the TDSB can pursue PPPs that benefit both developers and the community.
    • Remove the 0.5% premium paid to Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council when the current contract expires—it needlessly inflates the cost of work and limits vendor competition.
    • Close under-performing cafeterias — Some TDSB cafeterias sell as little as $35 worth of food each day. Clearly, these cafeterias are failing in their mandate to provide healthy food to students and should be closed.

    3. There are candidates who have proposed advocating for a new tax dedicated specifically for education. Is this a proposal you support?

    No. Dedicated taxes make for great politics, but poor policy. The government currently devotes close to 9% of its budget to interest payments. Rather than considering additional taxes, the government needs to focus its energies on eliminating the deficit and then reallocating funds to education.

    4. Failures in special education are considered by some to be the greatest failure in the public system. What is your plan for correcting this?

    One in every 66 children is born with autism. Working closely with IMTI therapists and other specialists, they can thrive in fully integrated classrooms. However, this is not easy and frequently requires aids to join autistic children in the classroom. Unfortunately, the TDSB forces special needs children into remedial classes where they receive instruction from ECEs (early childhood educators) who lack adequate training and experience dealing with learning exceptionalities. If elected, I promise to be a strong advocate for children with learning exceptionalities and to fight for their right to participate in fully integrated classrooms with IMTI therapists.

    5. The current board saw the TDSB deficit balloon to $109-million – it’s biggest ever. What is your plan to address this going forward?

    Hard decisions need to be taken in this regard. Clearly our biggest cost is teacher salaries. These need to get in line with salaries of teachers across the province–while at the same time recognizing Toronto’s cost of living. Additionally the board needs to implement an attendance support system that will reduce the number of sick days staff take each year. Currently the average staffer takes over 15 days off per year.
    Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a tidal shift in the way capital projects are managed. The $7 million cost over-run on the Nelson Mandela school this year highlighted just how badly planning and oversight has gotten. We need to move away from our legacy laissez faire practices and implement a far more rigorous approach to capital management that includes preparing a detailed strategic development plan and using professional project managers to help ensure major capital projects come in on time and on budget.

    6. The TDSB recently estimated the cost of roof repairs to more than $2.5-million dollars. How would you ensure that necessary capital refurbishments are met within budget?

    The TDSB needs transformational change in the way it contracts out its work. It needs to move to a much more centralized purchasing approach. The need to repair roofs affects many of its buildings. A contract for the entire $2.5 million instead of multiple smaller contracts would result in a lower negotiated price without having to sacrifice quality. Additionally the board needs to hire independent experts with the expertise to define requirements and appropriate standards and who have a good grasp of costs and are

    7. Recently the Canadian Football League and Nissan stepped in to help school boards with the costs of organized sports. Do you support seeking more private investment at the TDSB?

    I support targeted private investment to help boards meet the cost of organized sports. Targeted means that sponsors can only be organizations whose marketing is primarily targeted at adults and whose products and services are not greatly sought after by impressionable kids. Both Nissan and the CFL meet those criteria. I also differentiate between advertising and branding. There could be brand names on supplied products, e.g., if a company provided shirts, the company’s name could be on the shirt as long as the company’s name was small and inconspicuous.

    8. What do you think is the best approach for the TDSB to take in upcoming contract negotiations with teachers and staff?

    The TDSB needs to do two things in its negotiations with teachers. First it needs to leverage the value—to both students and teachers—of using more technology based learning tools can improve learning outcomes and reduce costs. Second with falling enrollment and now potentially chronic deficits unless staffing costs are reduced, the board has no alternative but to reduce overall staffing costs. Negotiation need to focus on how—not if—the reductions will be achieved.

    9. In short time, the agreement between the TDSB and Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council is up for re-negotiation. Do you feel there are changes needed in the current agreement?

    Absolutely. Without question, the 0.5% premium must not be renewed. Additionally, I will push to ensure that the board ends the practice of providing rent-free office space to the trade union.

    10. TDSB has come under fire for ridiculous expenses – $150 to cut a key, $140 for a pencil sharpener, and a $200 toilet seat are just scratching the surface. How will you bring about a new culture that respects the budget and sees money spent wisely?​

    An organization’s culture is defined by its leadership. Trustees who blur the line between their salaries and their expense accounts, send a message to the rest of the board that rules can be broken with impunity. This is why I believe that the first step to solving the board’s systemic spending problems start with trustee expenses. I pledge to post itemized expense reports on a monthly basis clearly outlining my expenses and providing explanations for each.
    Establishing transparency around spending will set the tone for change, but implementing it will require effective management tools. I will advocate for effective measurement and control systems. I will push for a comprehensive review of staff roles and enforce a clearly defined hierarchy, with rules governing deliverables, communications and spending approvals. I will request that each department develop comprehensive five-year spending plans that are aligned to the board’s key objectives.


    • 1. Evidence suggests the TDSB was warned in 2006 about spending problems. Previous Chair Chris Bolton chose to ignore these warnings until his resignation. Going forward, how would you address the issue of over-spending at the school board?

      As TDSB Trustee for Ward 11, I would move quickly to push for a comprehensive and independent governance review. Among the highest responsibilities of any board is its fiduciary duty to its shareholders, who are in this case students, staff, and taxpayers. When board and management fail to understand or wilfully ignore this fact, stakeholders lose. Lack of effective budgetary oversight is unacceptable. Blatant, or even perceived conflicts of interest are unacceptable. Poor mechanisms for transparency is unacceptable. I am calling for a more accountable, effective, and transparent TDSB.

      2. The TDSB has been faced with a difficult decision about potentially selling school properties. To avoid this, where would you find savings in future budgets? List your top five specific priorities for savings.

      Significant savings can be found by tightening existing financial policies and controls for everyday expenses. (1) My first priority would be to call for the development of a more effective system for ensuring that the products and services necessary to operations are acquired at or below market value. This will impact virtually all budget categories. (2) This can be accomplished through broader consultation of both suppliers and best practices, as well as exploring innovative technological solutions for savings. Developing a consortium of interested parties could held to increase collective buying power and drive down prices. (3) Existing contracts should be reviewed for efficiency, and new or potential ones more carefully scrutinized. (4) The RFP process should also be reviewed and optimized as necessary to be more competitive without sacrificing the quality that our staff and students need. (5) Existing material and staff resources can be more intelligently managed and deployed, in order to avoid redundancy, excess, and waste.

      3. There are candidates who have proposed advocating for a new tax dedicated specifically for education. Is this a proposal you support?

      It would be an unsustainable strategy to ask for new taxes every time the tank runs dry. It could also backfire, in the sense that there will always be competing interests, differing priorities, and shifting politics. Given the finite resources available, the largest portion of TDSB funding ultimately depends on how the provincial government chooses to divvy up the budget. By increasing transparency, the public will be able to see if these priorities include supporting education. Ontarians support education, so their government should too. The most compelling case that can be made for additional resources comes when the public can plainly see that the TDSB is managed well, and that the solution is in the hands of their elected MPPs. We are not there yet, but we can be.

      4. Failures in special education are considered by some to be the greatest failure in the public system. What is your plan for correcting this?

      I am personally deeply passionate about the obligation that our public system has to the children and adults who need us the most. By ensuring meaningful inclusion and adequate supports, we can and must do right by those who are already vulnerable. Among the greatest untapped resources available to our schools are the students who fill the classrooms. By giving them ownership over their community, and providing opportunities to help and be helped, we can build a more compassionate and caring school culture – one that  welcomes and better meets the needs of everyone as they are.

      5. The current board saw the TDSB deficit balloon to $109-million – it’s biggest ever. What is your plan to address this going forward?

      Stricter financial controls must be among the top priorities for TDSB. However, innovative partnerships and revenue sources must also be explored – with a careful consideration for maintaining the quality of education and experience in our schools. Given that salaries comprise the largest expenditure, it will be necessary to continue to search for efficiencies within the parameters of existing contracts and collective agreements. Smarter deployment of personnel, and a more intentional process of matching task to skill level required can help to do this. Addressing the occupational and psychological health and safety of all staff can also help to make the TDSB workforce more productive while helping to reduce the economic impacts of not supporting staff in this way.

      6. The TDSB recently estimated the cost of roof repairs to more than $2.5-million dollars. How would you ensure that necessary capital refurbishments are met within budget?

      Smarter management of TDSB resources and services will be an important part of ensuring our facilities are to a standard we expect. That will sometimes mean triaging work in a more intentional way. It will also mean that contracts, services, and supplies must be priced and purchased competitively.

      7. Recently the Canadian Football League and Nissan stepped in to help school boards with the costs of organized sports. Do you support seeking more private investment at the TDSB?

      There are many opportunities for the private sector to support our schools, while deriving the expected mutual benefit. However, this must occur within carefully considered parameters that ultimately benefit students, staff, and communities. It must also not replace existing government funding – and legislative protections should be sought accordingly.

      8. What do you think is the best approach for the TDSB to take in upcoming contract negotiations with teachers and staff?

      Among the people most passionate about the success of our schools are the teachers and staff who support them. Negotiations do not have to follow the traditional adversarial model, and the TDSB should approach negotiations collaboratively and in absolute good faith. There will be differences, but differences are necessary for consensus to be built. If the board is more transparent, and includes teachers and staff (along with students and their parents) more meaningfully in the entire budget process, the realities will be known up front. We can then work together toward our shared ends.

      9. In short time, the agreement between the TDSB and Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council is up for re-negotiation. Do you feel there are changes needed in the current agreement?

      Smarter deployment of staff across the board with regard to needs and skills can be a source of major efficiency. With this being the case, and the badly needed development of a culture of fiscal responsibility, all parties will need to work collaboratively in the best interest of students, staff, and taxpayers.

      10. TDSB has come under fire for ridiculous expenses – $150 to cut a key, $140 for a pencil sharpener, and a $200 toilet seat are just scratching the surface. How will you bring about a new culture that respects the budget and sees money spent wisely?​

      Strengthened reporting and monitoring, along with a more nimble auditing process, will be a key part of developing and ensuring a culture of fiscal responsibility. We need to be shaken from the old ways of doing things, and invite innovative emerging, promising, and best practices. When there is an expectation of excellence, when the board walks the talk, and when we reward favourable results – we all win.


      • 1. Evidence suggests the TDSB was warned in 2006 about spending problems. Previous Chair Chris Bolton chose to ignore these warnings until his resignation. Going forward, how would you address the issue of over-spending at the school board?

        The Board has a balanced budget and achieved this balanced budget through some significant spending reductions. Those were hard decisions which I supported. Fiscal responsibility has to be balanced against student achievement and well-being. We continue to advocate for funding improvements to reflect the needs of a very diverse large urban school board. I believe, like all organizations, we have to continue to assess whether we are spending our funds appropriately and in ways that benefits our students. I also believe that we need to advocate for the TDSB to receive an appropriate share of the education funding available. For example, we have many students with special needs who reside in an urban centre because of the supports an urban centre provides. Many of these students may not be formally identified but continue to require additional supports.

        2. The TDSB has been faced with a difficult decision about potentially selling school properties. To avoid this, where would you find savings in future budgets? List your top five specific priorities for savings.

        1. Shared services – where can we leverage relationships to reduce duplication – other school boards, the city, other municipalities?
        2. Focusing on our core business – the education of students first and foremost. What are some of the things that we are doing as a Board that other levels of government or other organizations should be providing instead?
        3. How can we continue to provide services to our students/stakeholders but in a more cost effective way? For example, how can we provide healthy meals for our students in settings where operating a cafeteria is no longer viable?
        4. What are other Boards doing to reduce their costs that we can adopt?
        5. Assessing the education dollars available, is the TDSB getting the dollars they should? Should we be receiving more in special education or transportation because we are a large urban board?
        However, in some instances it may make sense to sell if it is the only way to redevelop facilities.

        3. There are candidates who have proposed advocating for a new tax dedicated specifically for education. Is this a proposal you support?

        There is already a component in the property tax for education. The provincial pooling of the education dollars means that not even education dollars collected in Toronto are spent in Toronto. I am not sure more or new taxes are the answer without first determining whether the TDSB is getting its fair share of the dollars currently available provincially. For example in the Backgrounder to a Motion I moved, supported by the TDSB at the June Board, I noted that if the Ministry of Finance and/or the City of Toronto were to introduce an infrastructure levy, increasing the education tax component available to TDSB, this would provide the Board with a substantial revenue source to finance the renewal backlog on existing infrastructure and the TDSB wouldn’t be forced to sever and sell school sites. With the support of the provincial government, the TDSB needs to negotiate a formal agreement with the City of Toronto  in which each partner shares equally in both the costs and benefits associated with the entirely of TDSB’s capital property. That said, the Motion I moved asks the Director to begin discussions with the City of Toronto staff and appropriate provincial government representatives to:
        a. develop options for generating sustainable school infrastructure funding while preserving school sites as important educational assets for future generations;
        b. ensure that playing fields and green space are preserved; and
        c. generate funding to support infrastructure investment needed in our schools to support the City’s Official Plan and significant growth population.
        The benefits of a new arrangement include:
        1. providing stable, sustainable revenue for TDSB infrastructure renewal and growth needs;
        2. ensuring that TDSB will be able to maintain a strong network of neighbourhood schools within walking and cycling distance of students’ homes;
        3. reducing TDSB’s costs for maintaining school fields;
        4. preserving precious neighbourhood green space used by Toronto residents of all ages; and supporting community planning and cooperation between levels of government

        4. Failures in special education are considered by some to be the greatest failure in the public system. What is your plan for correcting this?

        Supporting students with special needs spans more than the education sector as many of these students also require professional supports. Additionally, as new research and information comes to light, whether it’s about Autism or mental health and wellness, it is not just the education sector that needs to respond. Youth ministries and health care, for example, also need to respond and the responsibility needs to be shared and efforts need to be co-ordinated.

        5. The current board saw the TDSB deficit balloon to $109-million – it’s biggest ever. What is your plan to address this going forward?

        The deficit ballooned to $109 million because each year the deficit doubles. If I am short a dollar this year, next year I still short the dollar and owe you a dollar from the previous year. This compounding effect and the difficulty in making permanent reductions saw the deficit grow. It was a hard decision to finally make the necessary permanent reductions, but as a Board this term, we have voted to make those hard budget cuts to bring us closer to sustainability on the operating side. We continue to examine where else we can make permanent sustainable reductions without severely impacting student achievement and well-being, while at the same time, continue to advocate for Toronto students’ fair share of provincial funding to support their needs.

        6. The TDSB recently estimated the cost of roof repairs to more than $2.5-million dollars. How would you ensure that necessary capital refurbishments are met within budget?

        We continue to look at responsible ways of raising capital dollars, whether through solar panels, redevelopment projects or partnerships.

        7. Recently the Canadian Football League and Nissan stepped in to help school boards with the costs of organized sports. Do you support seeking more private investment at the TDSB?

        Partnerships are a good thing, in my opinion. The Board already has some partnerships which help provide programming and helps reduce costs that can be redirected elsewhere, for example to support financial literacy and student nutrition programs. However, private investments in our schools has to be evaluated responsibly.

        8. What do you think is the best approach for the TDSB to take in upcoming contract negotiations with teachers and staff?

        I think we need to stay within the framework the Ministry if prepared to fund.

        9. In short time, the agreement between the TDSB and Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council is up for re-negotiation. Do you feel there are changes needed in the current agreement?

        Every collective agreement and all contracts should be reviewed to ensure that it is fair to both our employees and the TDSB. We need to continue to assess how we do business with all our stakeholders. As a Board, we also need the flexibility to use dollars in the most efficient way while providing a fair and equitable workplace and work environment for our employees.

        10. TDSB has come under fire for ridiculous expenses – $150 to cut a key, $140 for a pencil sharpener, and a $200 toilet seat are just scratching the surface. How will you bring about a new culture that respects the budget and sees money spent wisely?​

        We have taken steps already to begin addressing overspending and to improve financial accountability. We will continue to assess whether we are using our dollars in the most effective way possible.