The Toronto District School Board has approved a long-term plan to sell off closed school sites in the hope that the revenue will encourage the provincial government to lift its funding freeze and finance the building of other schools.
The decision, which was made at a private board meeting late Thursday, includes a three-year plan to sever four sites and sell another eight pieces of land where schools are already shuttered, The Globe and Mail has learned.
“We’ve done the things to the max that the Ministry [of Education] would want us to do,” said TDSB chair Chris Bolton. “Things are getting pretty desperate for a number of our communities.”
Canada’s largest school board has faced widespread criticism for the way it spends on construction projects, and a $10-million budget overrun at Nelson Mandela Park Public School prompted the Ontario government to cut off funding for new TDSB building projects in October.
Trustees allowed a provincially appointed team to advise them on improving their maintenance department and eliminating their capital deficit.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said in an e-mail that TDSB staff have indicated they will submit the capital plan to the government shortly. “We’re hopeful the TDSB’s capital plan will address the conditions to lift the capital freeze,” wrote Lauren Ramey.
The freeze has meant that priority projects have languished. Schools such as Avondale Public School in North York and George Webster Elementary School in East York are struggling with a crowding crisis.
Trustees rejected a proposal by TDSB staff in November to sell off parcels of land. The idea of shrinking playgrounds and green spaces for students drew outrage from the public.
Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher said she could not support the capital plan Thursday night despite overcrowding in her East York schools. Five schools in her ward are short 1,000 spaces, and classes are held in old portables. “I had to vote against the capital plan because I couldn’t bring myself to build on top of other schools’ losses,” Ms. Cary-Meagher said. “I feel like we’re being asked to build schools on the bones of other schools, and I’m tired of cashing in our assets.”