It is unfortunate that the 3 candidates who are contesting Trustee and TDSB Chair Mari Rutka on the ballot did not participate in our survey. The recent selection of Trustee Rutka as Chair signalled an openness to make the organization more transparent, and based on the quality of her answers we have faith this will continue if other, more transparent Trustees are elected.
Candidates Who Did Not Participate: Hillar Agur, Alexander Brown, Michael Chen
Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Have clear policies and procedures in place that are consistently applied. Must choose what will be the best use of our time, personnel, and resources. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari There is a difference between finding savings and finding money. There must be a change in provincial legislation so that the TDSB is eligible for capital funding from the province and to levy development charges of new condos, like the Catholic board. This would provide a better source of capital funds than selling off properties. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Will consider Candidate Response Rutka, Mari If more services are needed, must have a discussion around providing more funding. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari We have to work within the funding. It is a requirement by law. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Start with the most emergent items and look at innovative ways of getting things fixed such as a solar panel partnership for roof repairs. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Will consider Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Be fair, be realistic, and be aware of broad parameters of negotiations Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Province will set the parameters and TDSB must assess what it means for the board. Candidate Response Rutka, Mari Support evidence-based decisions for programs and services. Increased accountability and transparency. Communication is also key.
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?
We must choose, through evidence-based decisions, what will be the best use of our time, resources and personnel and then continually be aware of, and seek to continuously improve, how we account for time spent, tasks done and people-power used. It is also important to have clear policies and procedures in place that are well communicated to all and consistently applied. The better we are at doing these things, the more spending and accounting for spending will be done well.
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.
There is a difference between finding savings in our annual budget (which I am certainly in favour of – with my one priority being that it directly affects students as little as possible) and finding money that can be used for building or renewing our over 500 school buildings. Currently, the funding regulations are such that Toronto is not eligible to receive funding for new school construction because not all of our over 500 schools are full. In a city this size and a board this big, that may never happen. In addition, this same criterion also means that we cannot levy charges on the development of new condos, the way that the city and the Catholic board do. While the city and the Catholic board have put HUNDREDS of millions of dollars away for future needs through such charges, the public board, because of provincial legislation, has not been able to put away a single cent. Unless there is a change in provincial regulation so that we are eligible for capital funding from the province and eligible to levy development charges for the thousands of condos still being built, we will not be able to address our capital needs without selling school properties – the only way currently available to us to raise badly needed funds. As taxpayers, I would hope that you would support the changes needed in provincial legislation to make it possible for the public school board to receive funding to build schools in heavily-enrolled areas, such as Willowdale, and to levy development charges, which would not necessitate any raise in taxes but would provide a better source of capital funds than the selling off of too many of the school properties we may need for future changes in population growth.
3. There are candidates who have proposed advocating for a new tax dedicated specifically for education. Is this a proposal you support?
If the money was for education and it could be demonstrated that it would be well spent, I could support this. As you say on your own website, taxes are a fact of life. There is no free lunch and taxes are the means by which we pay for the services the public needs. It is our responsibility as elected officials to follow up to make sure the taxes are well spent and the services that we have agreed to deliver are delivered. If a new education tax was being properly used to support good services that answered public needs and was the product of good fiscal planning and budgeting, then I would not spurn such a funding source.
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?
TDSB is constantly assessing its programming and distribution of programming in order to try to deliver as much as possible within the funding that we have. It is what we must continue to do. If services are as well run as they can be (see previous answer) and cost a certain amount to deliver, then that is what they cost. Beyond that, if the public feel more services are needed in order for each student to succeed, then we must have a discussion around providing more funding.
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 was addressed and the budget has been balanced that year and every year. We have to work within our funding. It is a requirement by law.
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 actual capital maintenance backlog for all things such as roofs, boilers, window replacements, etc. is over $3 billion. In order to address all of this, we would need to come up with an amount equivalent to our entire annual budget. Obviously, that cannot be done – both for regulatory and practical reasons. We must, then, continue to chip away at fixing things, starting with the most emergent items, within the budget available to us. We can also look at innovative ways of getting things fixed, as with the solar panel project that is now going ahead on many of our schools, where roofs are being repaired as part of a partnership agreement with the solar power company that is installing the panels.
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?
The TDSB already has policy around this and has benefitted from corporate generosity. I am not opposed to exploring corporate partnerships, but they must be advantageous to the board and our students and with partners who meet standards of ethical business practice that are acceptable to our community.
8. What do you think is the best approach for the TDSB to take in upcoming contract negotiations with teachers and staff?
Be fair, be realistic and be aware that the broad parameters of negotiations will be set at provincial levels for all school boards.
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?
Once again, the province will be setting the parameters here. As we enter into a negotiation period, we will need to see what that means for us and whether or not we will have the ability to make any changes should we wish to do so.
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?
There are many of us who are working to do just that – by supporting evidence-based decisions for programs and services and for resource and personnel allocation, improved accountability and transparency and increased efficiency, better communication and understanding of policies, procedures and processes and consistent application of all policies, procedures and processes. It is sometimes tedious work, but it is necessary in order to deliver the best educational experience possible for each student every day.