2014 TDSB Election: Ward 7 – Parkdale-High Park

The Incumbent:

Irene Atkinson

The Race

Both candidates who responded bring a great deal of real life experience to the race. Gordon Foster has managed to make do with little spending at a personal level, while Noel Kent has a bit more large-scale experience dealing with contractors. However, Foster’s idea of an earlier retirement age for teachers is worth studying further. Between the two, Kent’s responses were a bit more detailed although both candidates were interested in being as fiscally conservative as possible.

Candidates Who Did Not Participate:  Jeffrey Freeman, Jim Henderson, Robin Pilkey, Marcela Saitua, Linda Torry

The Breakdown

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Personal experience with household finances has been successful- translate it into public sphere
    Kent, Noel  Engage public for plan and then stick to it

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Eliminate the duplication of services, redraw boundaries to make sure equal amounts of students are going to appropriate schools, tough negotiations with MCSTC, earlier retirement age for teachers, and general efficiency focus
    Kent, Noel Better contracts, process efficiency and review, capital investments prioritization, public awareness, and full budgetary review

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon  No
    Kent, Noel  No

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Needs more time to study issue
    Kent, Noel Leveraging volunteers, teaching students and part time resource allocation need to be looked at more closely

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Strict spending rules, but province must retire debt
    Kent, Noel Same answer as for question 2, but if possible try to lobby provincial government for funding

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Specific fundraising campaigns at a local level, with board working with local businesses to raise money
    Kent, Noel Personal experience- detailed contracts with vendors, proper bid process

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Yes
    Kent, Noel Will Consider

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Push for an earlier retirement age for teachers and have retired teachers act as volunteers
    Kent, Noel Balanced approach, consider needs of teachers and current fiscal climate

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Yes
    Kent, Noel  Yes

  • Candidate Response
    Foster, Gordon Lead by example- honorarium should be enough money for all his expenses
    Kent, Noel Minimalist contract in place, three bid system and transparency for expenses

 

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?

    As an individual I am very careful about my expenditures. I possess no credit card, hold no mortgage and the only debt I have, for my daughter’s orthodontic work, will be fully paid off by November 1st. I chose to pay a thousand dollars down and the rest in monthly payments in order to keep myself aware of the cost and the time frame of her treatment, as I could have paid a lump sum at the outset. My income is quite limited and the savings I do have are designated for my daughter’s future use: her university education, a wedding if she so chooses, and the down payment on a home for her family. I would take this same approach to current and future expenditures to my position as a trustee: do not spend what is not there, and be sure to plan for future costs.

    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.

    Savings can always be found if one is willing to do without. At my daughter’s elementary school three new classrooms were built to accommodate the local demand for full day kindergarten. Just outside my ward, an entire high school building has been taken over by the Toronto Public and Catholic French Boards. Yet the TDSB still offers French immersion at the elementary school in my catchment, to which perhaps the majority of parents commute with their children as it is too far to walk. Daycare spaces are at a premium in my neighbourhood and expectant parents need to get their child onto a waiting list almost before it is born. So where can savings be found? First I would seek to eliminate the duplication of services by the four separate publicly-funded Toronto school boards. Then perhaps a re-drawing of catchments could help direct students from overcrowded schools to schools which are perhaps overstaffed yet underused in an effort to pre-empt unnecessary closures and needless expansions. Third, the TDSB must be extremely firm in the stance it takes in its negotiations with the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council. Toronto’s public schools are not profit generators, nor are they a market, a commodity, or a job creation scheme. They are an investment in the future of our society. Fourth, perhaps there are savings to be found in an earlier retirement age for teachers who have certainly earned their pensions well before they retire. This would also allow newly trained teachers the opportunities which they so desperately seek and deserve. Five, which could perhaps be placed at the top of my list, would  be an increased overall focus on efficiency.

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

    A new tax, no. But when I was a student in the Borough then City of Etobicoke, schools were funded by a property tax levy. A new funding scheme may be needed if Toronto’s schools are to thrive as they did in the past. Property tax is now calculated based on market value, and houses in my ward often sell for more than a million dollars. A small portion of existing property taxes being designated for school board use would go a long way towards easing the crisis in funding. Existing per-student funding is obviously insufficient when the school boards are able to ask and receive more than ten thousand dollars a year in tuition for a single foreign high school student.

    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 fortunately not personally familiar as yet with this issue but I will do my utmost to appraise myself of the situation and seek appropriate remedies.

    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?

    An operating budget is just that. It is not meant to be used for the retirement of debt. Strict rules must be put in place that prohibit any and all expenditures beyond what the school board is allotted to spend. Once this is done and budget deficits are no longer incurred it should be the province’s responsibility to retire any outstanding debt.

    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?

    All Toronto public school buildings belong to the residents of Toronto. Some buildings are even eligible to be designated as historic if they have not been already. Other sources of funding for such repairs must be found when they are available in order to reduce the burden on the school board’s budget. Additionally, as publicly-owned landmark buildings the board should be allowed to conduct fundraising campaigns for specific refurbishment and renewal projects. Local businesses and residents have a very special interest in their local schools and are generally willing to contribute what they can when asked, but they must be asked.

    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?

    As I responded to the previous question I am all for private donations to assist with the upkeep and renovation of school buildings. It makes sense that the CFL is interested and allowed to contribute to organized sports in schools. Nissan, however, is a corporation in competition with other car manufacturers. Organizations like the CFL, a Canadian institution, should be free to publicize and benefit from their contributions. Corporations like Nissan, who are eligible for corporate tax reductions based on charitable contributions, should have very clear restrictions placed upon them regarding branding and marketing through the public schools.

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

    As I mentioned in my response to the second question the TDSB needs to make it clear that in a labour market that is saturated with trained and certified teachers seeking work, so much so that the provincial government is seeking to halve the number of teaching college graduates by requiring two years of training instead of one, it makes no sense to have teachers working up to and past the age of sixty-five – especially when teachers who are approaching that age have already earned a very sufficient pension. Yes, retired teachers should be allowed to continue contributing their skills and experience but as volunteers. Many already do in other areas of society such as community food programs and arts festivals. Such esoteric salary-based enticements as bankable sick days are obviously no longer necessary to draw young people to the profession.

    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?

    Most definitely, and I will work to enact them. Repair and maintenance staff need to be compensated by a set hourly rate hour for work performed in order to avoid the tacking-on of extraneous expenditures to necessary repairs to pay employees who are, at best, merely on stand-by.

    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?​

    As a TDSB trustee I will be receiving an honorarium for work that may keep me busy for weeks on end or may leave me with a lot of free time during the course of the year. It is not a lot of money but it will be more than enough for me to live on and support my daughter. I will lead by example and expect every public servant I converse with to have the same respect for the public purse that I have.

  • 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 have also been monitoring this trend of overspending and have grown more and more worried about the unwillingness to take a look, internally, at what the money is being spent on and holding trustees accountable for their spending decisions. I would engage the public in a greater capacity to determine exactly where the main priorities lay, stick with a budget and a plan and execute.

    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. Contracts, I’ve dealt with private sector contractors and bad contracts at that and getting bad contracts out and holding contractors accountable and responsible for the work they’ve done is integral to ensuring best value for dollar
    2. Process efficiency, looking internally at improving processes saves staff time allowing them to dedicate more effort on achieving results versus dealing with administrative burden
    3. Capital investments prioritization, having certain wards with excess budgets spending money on non-urgent fixes while other wards watch as their 100 year old schools continue to deteriorate further does not make sense. Decisions need to be made at the executive level and there needs to be public awareness.
    4. Public awareness, following on my last point the public has the right and the desire to know what’s going on with their schools, I would look at bringing in the public to have more engagement alleviating some misconceptions on both sides.
    5. Experienced budgetary review, are we (as the TDSB) spending resources in the correct areas? A full assessment of previous budgets needs to be undertaken and an analysis done to determine where specifically savings can be found, often times, and from my experience budgets of these types get repeated and repeated in some instances allocation to specific projects or costs is being spent without taking into account the requirements in other areas.

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

    I do not support a tax increase, savings need to be found internally.

    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?

    Having seen support staff cut first hand I understand how integral they are as part of the education system. Leveraging volunteers, teaching students and part time resource allocation may be able to help in some capacity. Unfortunately most of the special needs students require full time help which means determining where other efficienceies can be realized to allocate more resources to fund more help.

    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?

    I believe I’ve outlined some potential remedies in my response to question two however with the city and province also running deficits asking for net new money will not necessarily be an option unless public opinion can be swayed to divert provincial funding. Efficiences will most likely have to be found within.

    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?

    Through my experience in holding contractors accountable, I’ve managed multiple capital investment projects and ensured best dollar for value by going through a proper bid process and writing detailed contracts with vendors.

    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?

    This is a partnership that has to be approached extremely cautiously but I am definitely for exploring more options similar to the CFL and Nissan partnerships. Ultimately the children and their well being come first, further analysis has to be done on this before any  commitments can be made.

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

    It has to be a balanced approach that reflects both the importance of the job that teachers and staff do, we are entrusting them with raising the future leaders of our country. At the same time the approach has to reflect the current fiscal climate, the size of both the TDSB deficit and the provincial deficit are definitely factors to take into consideration. We do not however want to be in a position similar to that of B.C. where children are missing class.

    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?

    This is one of the main reasons I’m running, the information I’ve read about the costs which you’ve identified below being paid when our children’s schools are falling apart is shocking and angering. I believe there should be a minimalist contract in place, for large capital projects a three bid system should be in place that is open and transparent ensuring the public is well aware of any expenses incurred

    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?​

    Further to my response to question 9. and as I’ve mentioned briefly in other responses I’ve dealt with and seen this culture of entitlement before. Holding contractors accountable for the work they perform and paying them accordingly is a key first step, once again public awareness helps drive issues to the forefront as well.