2014 TDSB Election: Ward 3 – Etobicoke-Lakeshore

The Incumbent:

Pamela Gough

The Race

Incumbent Pamela Gough was the only person in Ward 3 to participate in the survey and like most of her colleagues she defended the work of the TDSB, gave us a sense of the difficulty in finding savings in the budget, and was more inclined to consider new ways to find revenues than ways to reduce spending. Policy wonks and evidence-minded people will appreciate the facts and figures she has presented, but her assertion that the overspending that was uncovered has been decisively dealt with is unlikely to restore trust among voters.

Candidates Who Did Not Participate: Shane Bennett, Tony Del Grande

The Breakdown

 

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 question above is framed with the rather unfair assumption that Trustee Bolton resigned due to budget issues after years of misspending. This is certainly not the case. The TDSB has passed balanced budgets throughout the current board’s term of leadership from 2010-2014. Chair Bolton resigned for entirely personal reasons. The board has pursued vigorous measures to bring costs under control and in fact reduced costs by more than $100 M in 2011-2012. It passed a balanced budget again the following year and also this year, as well as a three-year balanced budget strategy to guide responsible management of tax dollars going forward.

    I stand for fiscal responsibility with a focus on efficient and effective operations. Taxpayer dollars are hard-earned and the board has a duty to ensure that they are used efficiently and are focused on the classroom.

    Context: most of the TDSB’s operating budget (83%) is spent on salaries and benefits which are largely laid out in collective agreements negotiated by the province at a central bargaining table. Although the TDSB and other Ontario public boards of education are not at the central bargaining table, they have to live with the results of the provincial collective bargaining process and manage accordingly.

    Through the contentious Bill 115 period two years ago, the province set out terms for provincial agreements, then stepped in and also set the local parameters for collective agreements,renewing the local collective agreement and leaving no room for the TDSB to bargain, even with its own local trades. This lack of local autonomy was a frustrating situation.

    The TDSB has shown responsibility in getting its house in order. It recognized it needed to increase vigilance in its facilities maintenance department and took steps four years ago to rectify the problem. A new executive officer of facility services was hired in 2010 to address inefficiencies in building maintenance. Since then a number of changes have been made, including streamlining work orders and putting GPS systems on board vehicles to track their movements. TDSB’s increased management controls have been recognized favorably by the Toronto Star in the June 2014 editorial article here:

    http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2014/06/18/good_work_on_curbing_waste_at_toronto_school_board_editorial.html

    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.

    This is a capital budget question. Savings from the operating budget cannot be spent on the capital budget so we need to look at revenue generation rather than savings. The TDSB has over 550 schools, most of which were built more than 60 years ago and need renewal. There is a backlog of $3B in capital repairs due to provincial underfunding. The provincial government allocates funding for capital repairs to school boards across the province. In the past it has chosen to give the TDSB far less than its provincial share based on enrollment.

    The provincial expectation is that TDSB should largely cover its own capital funding needs by selling its landholdings- i.e. selling low-enrollment operating schools and long term core holdings that are kept for future enrollment growth.  In keeping with this expectation, the TDSB has consolidated several low enrollment schools and sold numerous properties over the last six years, returning funds to the system for capital projects.

    TDSB must act as a responsible steward of its capital assets and must plan for future enrollment growth in a city that is rapidly intensifying. I do not agree with selling school properties in areas where enrollment is growing or may be growing in the future. This is shortsighted. I also do not agree with severing schoolyards of operating schools and selling partial schoolyards to developers. Once this green space is gone, it is gone forever from our communities.

    Revenues for the capital budget should come from:

    1) The provincial government. Toronto sends billions of tax dollars to the province and receives far less back than it gives. The TDSB’s main source of capital funding is the province. In my area, the local youth correctional centre is in far better shape than the local public schools. The province apparently thinks that the accommodation needs of public school students matter less than those of youth in criminal court. Public schools should be sufficiently funded for their capital needs. Kids are worth it.

    2)  Fees paid by developers. The TDSB is the only board in the GTA that is not allowed by provincial law to charge development fees when new housing infrastructure is built. The province should change the regulations so that when new housing is built that will increase enrollment in nearby schools, development charges should go to the public board, not just the Catholic board. Those fees should be available for extensions to existing schools in areas that have chronically overflowing schools, as well as for new school builds where circumstances warrant.

    3) Partnerships with the City of Toronto to jointly provide stewardship and maintenance of schoolyards that also act as green space and recreational parkland for the community in general.

    4) Sales of TDSB properties- BUT ONLY in areas where there are sufficient long term core holdings to handle enrollment increases over the next 30 years.

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

    No.

    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 place high value on the delivery of quality special education programs. Overall the TDSB’s record shows it is capably handling the special education needs of its learners. What is the evidence? TDSB learners as a whole, including special education learners, achieve at or above the provincial average in test scores. The TDSB has made steady and significant gains in increasing the achievement levels for students with Special Education needs, according to results released by the provincial Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).  Last September, the EQAO results for TDSB Grade 3 students with Special Education needs (excluding gifted) increased 6% in reading, 1% in writing, and 1% in math. The results for Grade 6 showed similar increases. Goals for this year are to improve on these figures.

    Challenges exist. The province cut $7.3 M of special education funding for the TDSB this April. This is a significant reduction and will make it increasingly hard for the TDSB to provide special education learners with the supports they need to do well.  I am deeply concerned about this.

    I advocate for sufficient funding to provide special education learners with the supports they need for success, which may include smaller class sizes, educational assistants, and adaptive technology. The needs of special education learners must be met and met well as the TDSB grapples with provincial funding challenges over the next four years.

    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?

    School boards must deliver balanced budgets. By law, the TDSB is not allowed to carry an operational deficit from one year to another. The TDSB did face an operating deficit of $108.8M in early 2013 but vigorously reduced spending to eliminate this deficit. By June 2013 the board brought forward a final budget in which funding equaled spending.

    The vast majority (95%) of TDSB revenue comes from the Ministry of Education, and a structural deficit developed in 2012-2013 because of a gap between funding provisions and the amount the board spent on principals and vice-principals, libraries, guidance, educational assistants etc. The deficit was eliminated by putting in place operational efficiencies that did not affect the classroom. In 2013-2014, the board produced not only a balanced operating budget but also a plan to balance the long-standing capital deficit.  Going forward, the goal is continued long-term sustainability in fiscal management.

    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 has entered into a public-private-partnership with a contractor, School Top Solar Ltd, under the Feed-in-Tariff program. Over 4.3 M square feet of school roofs are undergoing repair or replacement at no cost to the taxpayer. Solar panels installed on school roofs will generate power that will be used to fund these roof repairs. Work has already begun. Not only does this save taxpayers millions of dollars, it also reinforces the TDSB’s Go Green environmental action policy.

    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 seeking carefully developed situations in which public or private organizations partner with the TDSB to support the TDSB’s mission and objectives within a framework that supplements normal funding streams so as to enrich programs, provide additional learning opportunities, or enhance the physical infrastructure of schools and school grounds.  These partnerships must fit with the TDSB’s policies and be free of overt commercialism such as marketing objectives.

    Examples: there are a number of private-public partnerships at present within the TDSB. The artificial turf field and dome at Lakeshore Collegiate is one, operated by a private partner under an agreement which gives Lakeshore CI students free access for school and extra-curricular sports. It also gives free access to local residents.  The field is rented when not needed by the school. Lakeshore CI has benefitted by the provision of a tournament sports field and an all-weather domed playing field throughout the winter months at no cost to taxpayers. The solar panel agreement mentioned in question 6 is another example of a private public partnership that that is a win-win for both partners as well as taxpayers.

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

    The major part of the collective agreement negotiations will take place at the provincial table so the TDSB will be bargaining directly only with local groups.  I support fair and open bargaining with all employee groups

    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?

    Yes, the current agreement is dated and I expect that both partners will approach negotiations with a fresh set of parameters to discuss.

    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?​

    The costs you describe were generally incurred in situations where complications happened to make apparently simple jobs more expensive to fix than they normally would be. However, there is no doubt that problems existed in TDSB facilities maintenance several years ago. Under new Director Donna Quan, a culture of fiscal discipline has been building momentum as described in the answer to question one. The TDSB has shown resolve in bringing its fiscal house in order over the 2010-2014 term of office.

    Going forward, the board has a strategic plan called the Years of Action to further increase educational effectiveness while maintaining cost controls. I support fiscal responsibility within a framework of delivering high quality education programs.