Canada’s largest school board has indefinitely postponed close to 40 school repairs, as several districts across the province are being forced to rejuggle their plans after the new government cut a fund earmarked for energy-efficient projects.
Ontario school boards, facing a $15.9-billion repair backlog, learned in a memo last week that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government had cut a $100-million school repair fund. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) was money that came from the proceeds of the province’s cap-and-trade program and helped pay for energy-efficient building elements such as new windows and mechanical systems in schools.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in an e-mail statement to The Globe and Mail that her government promised during the election campaign to cancel cap-and-trade.
“All of the programs that were paid for through cap-and-trade are being reviewed and we will be making decisions on a case by case basis on which programs need to be kept,” she said.
That does little to satisfy school board officials who have faced years of inconsistent funding from previous governments and say their buildings have suffered from neglect. In recent years, the Liberals increased funding for school repairs, but even that only covered routine annual maintenance and the most critical repairs; it did little to chip away at the backlog.
Several boards reached by The Globe said the GGRF cut would affect their repair backlog, and planned projects may need to reshuffled. The ministry stated in its memo that it would cover the costs of work contracted on or before July 3. It said school boards were not to enter into any contracts after that date.
“We will need to prioritize and, as a result, may have to put some projects on hold,” said Carla Pereira, a spokeswoman for the Peel District School Board.
The Toronto District School Board has spent $4-million of the $25-million it was to receive, and said that 36 repairs – from windows to lighting in schools – are now affected by the cancellation of the program. Those repairs are now deferred pending review, which means staff will be tasked with determining whether they are critical enough to move ahead with and whether other projects move further down the list.
Robin Pilkey, the chair of the board, said with the TDSB facing a repair backlog of $4-billion, every dollar counts in school repairs. Money has been so scarce that the board makes choices based on repairs that are safety related or so critical that they can’t be put off any longer, she said.
“[The loss of the GGRF fund] is a hit,” Ms. Pilkey said.
Todd White, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said his district has lost $2.15-million because of the GGRF cancellation.
“This is the type of everyday work that we need to be doing. So the clawback of these dollars just simply stalls our greater plan to tackle these everyday items,” Mr. White said.
Krista Wylie, a parent and co-founder of Fix Our Schools, an organization that has been campaigning for more money to repair schools, said the GGRF made up 7 per cent of the school repair budget and the loss is “hugely significant.”
Ms. Wylie said she is worried that as these dollars get cut and school repairs get postponed, children will be the ones who suffer.
“These buildings are aging every year that passes and if we don’t eliminate the repair backlog, the buildings get that much older and the potential for safety risk is greater,” she said.