2014 TDSB Election: Ward 4 – York West

The Incumbent:

Stephanie Payne

The Race

All three candidates who responded mentioned the importance of fiscal responsibility and transparency and all three favoured more private investment in schools. However, there were some clear differences- Tiffany Ford was the only candidate to consider a dedicated tax for education, while Mirtha Coronel placed more of a focus on open tendering of contracts. We appreciated hearing about Michelle Minnott’s experience forming community working groups on educational issues. Incumbent Stephanie Payne did not reply to this survey.

Candidates Who Did Not Participate: Kasim Dogan, Sabrina Gopaul, Giancarlo Mosca, Spiros Papathanasakis, Matias de Dovitiis

The Breakdown

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Culture of respect, transparency
    Ford, Tiffany Assess budget and decide where to cut back
    Minott, Michelle Promote financial transparency and accountability

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Competitive bid process for all transactions, parental and community volunteers for after school and extra curricular activities, EcoFriendly procedures and policies, regularly scheduled mini-audits
    Ford, Tiffany No cuts, no selling schools
    Minott, Michelle Streamline budgets, closely monitor work orders and travel expenses , crack down on excessive absenteeism, eliminate inefficiencies and duplication, cut from discretionary budgets

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha No
    Ford, Tiffany Will Consider
    Minott, Michelle  No

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Better understand the needs of special education students
    Ford, Tiffany Consult with parents more, focus on IPRC hearings
    Minott, Michelle Need clearer definition what is covered under special education- equality with French immersion schools, case by case review of individualized education plans

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Hard decisions, look at rankings of schools
    Ford, Tiffany Board members must have financial backgrounds
    Minott, Michelle Look for inefficiencies and wasteful spending in budget

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Competitive bid process
    Ford, Tiffany Promote accountability and focus on reviewing process as it goes
    Minott, Michelle Partnership with the Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation to create plans for utilizing green space and improved after school programming, and lobby Ministry for Education Development Charges for the TDSB

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Yes
    Ford, Tiffany Yes
    Minott, Michelle Yes

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Heavy handed union approach is not acceptable
    Ford, Tiffany Caring approach is best
    Minott, Michelle Negotiate in good faith but respect budgetary process

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Yes
    Ford, Tiffany Will Consider
    Minott, Michelle Yes

  • Candidate Response
    Coronel, Mirtha Public expense reporting
    Ford, Tiffany Unique experience making do with a lot less will translate well on board
    Minott, Michelle limiting overtime hours of skilled labourers, giving on-site caretakers the ability to do minor installations without having to create a work order, streamlining the work order process, better monitoring of travel time and expenses of contractors/ skilled workers and increase competition with regards to TDSB partnerships

 

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?

    Going forward, I would address the issue of over-spending at the school board by promoting a culture of respect for rules and procedures related to the spending of our tax payers dollars. Transparency on budget allocation and spending is essential as it holds us the decision makers accountable.

    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.

    (a)  Advocate for a culture that will respect tax payers dollars through adhering to a COMPETITIVE BID process for all TDSB transactions and ensure that public tendering is made available and enforced

    (b)  Use parental and community volunteers to assist with extra-curricular activities that may extend passed the regular work day and responsibilities of teachers – Cost reduction through reduced staff salary which extends beyond regular work day.

    (c)  Request parental support to assist with funding of extra-curricular activities, i.e. Parent volunteer drivers vs. hiring school buses or cabs to transfer students.

    (d)  Further reduce print costs at school level through strict enforcement of established EcoFriendly procedures and policies i.e. through on-line news letters or 1 newsletter per family disciplines or limit printed communication consolidated bi-weekly or monthly communication notice

    (e)  Develop a policy that requires regularly scheduled “mini-audits” to ensure fiscal responsibility and to identify opportunities for cost reductions

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

    This is not a proposal I support, as the tax dollars already being deducted from our net earnings is burdened enough.  We need to “right spend” not “spend more.”

    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?

    This is an area that requires a deeper understanding of the root cause of the failures, there is no question that Special Education is a necessity; however, we need to better understand those needs and work with those experienced in this area along with families that face this challenge daily, to identify how best to address the needs of our precious children, while ensuring our approach is balanced.

    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?

    Back to basics –There is no doubt that areas within the TDSB are falling apart while other are flourishing as illustrated through the school rankings by region, none the less we need to stop the deficit bleeding, re-asses our priorities which is offering our students the best education possible responsibly using the resources available.  Overspending does not set a good example for our students, further leaving them a financial mess to clean up is irresponsible.  We need to make some hard decisions that will have the least detrimental impact on the quality of education our students receive, while aggressively addressing the deficit.  Overall we need to be visionaries with the budget allocation sober with the reality that living within our means is critical to our long-term success.

    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?

    Competive Bid Process for products and services purchased should be mandatory for a budget this size.  We need to use best buying practices to ensure we get the most value for every tax dollar spent on roof repairs.  The work should go to tender and be awarded to the vendor(s) that offer the best value, we cannot allocated business tenders based on allegiances but rather based on the facts.  We need to be as prudent with purchasing roof repair services as we would be to purchase our own car or home.

    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 do support local business supporting each other and that includes local business’ helping out with costs associated with the development of our students including but not limited to organized sports.

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

    For too long, the negotiations have bogged down the learning experience of our students, this needs to stop.  The union’s heavy handed approach to these negotiations is unacceptable and the TDSB should not back down from the needs of the board to get back to the business of teaching  and administrating the office on budget.

    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, I believe salaries need to be realigned with fair market value of service offered.

    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?​

    Require that all members make public their expense reporting.  Trustees need to understand that the money has been entrusted to us by the tax payers to spend and use carefully.  TDSB members need to understand the need to set a good example to our students and to be good stewards of that which we have today in order to secure a better future for our City.

  • 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?

    Firstly by assessing what is being spent and what areas we can either cut back or decrease spending on. The board must be fiscally responsible and fiscally honest with tax payers and it’s our duty to ensure that we stick with the allocated budget. Providing transparency to public and getting feedback on the board’s spending would hold the board accountable moving forward.

    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.

    We should attempt to avoid selling school properties at all costs, because it affects the community, but I also understand that our deficit is enormous. I cannot state what my five priorities are because I need to assess on a board level all the options. I have experienced the  “MIKE HARRIS YEARS” in high school, and let me state it was a horrible experience that I will not allow any other student to go through via major programming cuts. I also know that I will keep all cuts out of the classrooms, and I will not want anything cut from Special Education.

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

    It’s a controversial proposal but if the public is willing it would be a great one to help with the cost of schools, but with that being said it is important to resolve the current budgetary issues now before asking to public to pay more.

    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?

    It is a very big failure by our school system. The best way to correct it is to consult with parents and educators within the special needs education arena, and find out where we are failing the most and work towards resolving those issues. If elected, I intend to focus a lot on the IPRC meetings because many parents, especially newcomers to Canada feel “bullied” and intimated by those on the panel. Parents should have a choice, and a say to what is best suited for their children. Not failing to mention, the process needs to be effectively communicated to parents so they understand all of their rights.

    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 board has done a poor job over the years, we need to address the deficit immediately and find a way to decrease it without paying more of taxpayer’s dollars on “searching for solutions” with spending money on consultants. This is why we need more board members with financial and management backgrounds.

    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 board and the TDSB must hold themselves and contractors accountable. Going over budget doesn’t just happen, people allow it to happen, therefore assessing the progress of refurbishments and reviewing anything that may cause the project to go over budget is key. All budgets are manageable with the right people.

    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?

    Absolutely, we need more support from private sector.

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

    A caring approach is first. Yes, teachers and staff work for the TDSB and as a board member we are require to ensure that we can have the best education system within a budget that tax payers can afford. Yet ultimately, we know that teachers and staff want and deserve more, and we should be able to come to the table willing to work together so that students are not affected by any disruptions.

    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?

    I’m sure there is always room for improvement.

    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?​

    I come from a very poor and marginalized area, which I would like to represent at the board level. I know how to do a lot with less, and clearly many people at TDSB do not share my experience because those are absolutely ridiculous expenses. A new culture for respecting tax payers money can only come with new trustees that respect the tax payer, students and quality of education.

  • 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?

    I am aware there that there have been a number of recent allagations within the Board of Trustees and the TDSB structure of financial mismanagement. The TDSB is given a budget of approximately 3 billion dollars and there is vital need to maintain transparency with regard to spending. In April 2014 Province of Ontario announced it’s funding for the 2014-15 school year and that the TDSB will experience significant cuts to Special Education and School Operations funding. Special Education funding was cut by $7.3 million and funding for school facility operations was cut by $10 million.
    As a result, there is definitely a need to streamline spending within the TDSB in a manner that does not affect the classrooms. My intent as Trustee of Ward 4 is to promote Financial Transparency, and Accountability. We have a duty to our constituents and to taxpayers as a whole to ensure we as elected officials stand for and promote Fiscal responsibility.

    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.

    Let me be clear here. I am opposed to selling off school buildings and lands. As Trustee I will do my utmost to ensure this does not take place. But let’s look at the problem carefully…

    The TDSB approved a plan to sell off closed school sites after the province imposed a funding freeze on the school board in 2012. Now schools across Toronto are aging, and as a result require a great deal of maintenance and upkeep. However, the province’s Funding formula does not take into account the many TDSB’s aging schools. School properties are being sold to offset the growing cost of this maintenance. The Ontario government’s own audit has shown that there are 202 TDSB schools in critical condition— this is almost half of the TDSB’s 588 operating schools. 41 of these schools are said to need extensive renovations at a total cost of $3.2 billion.

    Our schools have gone through a great deal of cuts over the past couple of years with the TDSB’s efforts to balance the budget in light of the Ministry’s funding freeze. These cuts have directly affected the classroom. There are areas that I believe can still be streamlined, but I believe the true answer to this question will come from TDSB creating sustainable corporate partnerships and opening potentially large revenue streams.
    Here are 5 ways that I believe we could find additional savings within the budget:
    1. Again, streamline budgets within the TDSB to address areas of overspending especially with regards to maintenance and repair costs and service contracts
    2. Closely monitor work orders and travel expenses to ensure there is no misuse of funds
    3. Tightening up areas that may reflect wasteful speeding, such as excessive absenteeism which can be costly for any organization.
    4. Eliminae inefficiencies and duplication of service
    5. Finding additional savings from cuts to discretionary budgets

    My priority in this matter, is NOT selling schools but making better use of these schools and green spaces. The needs of our families and communities deserve to be the focal point . For example, our young people need afterschool outlets. Schools can become community hubs servicing the needs of their neighbourhoods.
    As Trustee for ward 4, I will advocate for the following:
    1. Improved partnership with the Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation to create plans for utilizing green space and schools for improved after school programming for our young people and sports teams. I have formed a group of concerned parents in Summer 2014 who met with members of Parks and Recreation along with other community organizations to discuss such partnerships.

    2. The lack of Education Development Charges the TDSB is qualified for puts TDSB at a disadvantage. As a result, The school board has had to resort to selling school land and property to offset growth and capital infrastructural issues in other areas of the city. If the Ministry allowed TDSB to apply the EDC similar to the rates permitted by the Catholic School Board, based on new growth just in the past few years the TDSB would have millions of dollars in additional revenue. New development is having a great deal of impact on our school system. It is only reasonable that land developers contribute to the cost associated with this tremendous growth.

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

    No, I do not support an increase in taxes. I am a strong promoter of fiscal responsibility and there are  ways to look internally within the TDSB system to reduce overspending.

    I would also support looking to the Ministry to loosen up the current restrictions placed on TDSB in qualifying for Education Development Charges. This would allow TDSB to access additional funds from developers. It is my opinion that the EDC Regulation is outdated and needs to be amended. This would free millions of dollars in much needed resources that can be applied to capital infrastructure in Toronto schools. (also see answer above)

    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?

    The name “Special education” within the TDSB covers a broad spectrum and encompasses many different issues. For instance, “the gifted program” is also a program categorized under “Special Education”. The program as a whole has its advantages and disadvantages.

    First of all, Special Education screening for the gifted program may take place more in English only schools while there are many parents who are concerned that there is little gifted program screening taking place within the French Immersion schools.

    Secondly, the issues that arise around IEP’s (Individualized Educational Plans) can be many, and it may be necessary to examine on a case by case basis. An IEP is considered necessary when the work the student is doing is modified and may not always reflect the work for that grade.

    The bottom line here is that parents are the greatest advocates for their children and it is important for parents to get engaged and involved in their child’s education. Overall there is a great deal of misinformation and lack of information around the Special Education program and IEP’s. Parents often feel overwhelmed within this. Recognizing this problem, I spearheaded a 2014 Parent Conference where “Understanding Special Education” was a key component of the conference. However, more needs to be done, in terms of education and support for families within the Special Education system.

    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?

    It is important to produce a balanced budget. We have a duty to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers and our constituents. Over the next 4 years as Trustee I will reviewing the current state of the budget, assist in highlighting and identifying inefficiencies and overspending and work constructively on eliminating those to produce a balanced 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?

    Also see my answer to question #2
    Aging schools and deteriorating capital infrastructures within the TDSB is and has been a prevailing problem for many years now. There are many schools waiting for much needed roof repairs, and other repairs affecting the health and safety of our children. As discussed previously, in question #2 it is vital that outdated Education Development Charge regulations are amended by the Ministry in order to potentially open up millions of dollars in revenue for the board. This revenue stream can be utilized to deal with our aging schools and much needed roof repairs.

    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 feel it’s important for any organization, the TDSB included, to source out additional sources of funding and income streams. In addition, enhanced corporate partnerships are one way to meet the growing needs of our school communities without excessively taxing our students and constituents. As long as these partnerships align and reflect the overall mission of the TDSB. Our goal here is to enable “all students to reach high levels of achievement and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and values they need to become responsible members of a democratic society”.

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

    Union negotiations can be a very delicate process. It is important to balance the requests of the union with the needs of the school board, its students and families. Teacher strikes can be very disruptive to the education of our young people and often carries with it a great deal of frustration and on either side.

    As a member of the board of Trustees I would examine the collective agreement and review the request of the Union. It is important that negotiations take place in good faith and that agreements are made that is fair to both parties but most importantly stays within the budget outlined.

    The end result of the negotiation process if for the parties to come to a collaborative agreement.

    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?

    I do believe there should be provisions within this agreement that ensure competitive rates for the TDSB trade workers. I also believe that the TDSB should have the ability utilize the on-site caretaker to do simple, quick installations. This will save cost and ensure work orders are not created for small jobs.

    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 has been a great deal of discussion with regards to the issue of overspending. It is important that a new culture of transparency and fiscal responsibility be injected into the TDSB. This will take place with a number of measures implemented to ensure the appropriate checks and balances are in  place within the system and strongly enforced.

    For instance:
    - limiting overtime hours of skilled labourers
    - the ability for on-site caretakers to do minor installations such as installing a pencil sharpener
    without having to create a work order
    - Streamlining the work order process for maintenance and repair; confirm work orders are completed according to specification

    - better monitoring of travel time and expenses of contractors/ skilled workers
    - increase competition with regards to TDSB partnerships to ensure service fees reflect the fair market value
    As Ward 4 Trustee, I believe it is important to be accountable to the taxpayers and families. We need to utilize savings to balance the budget and reinvest back into our classrooms.