On Oct.17 the federal government introduced new mortgage rules to try and control the unfettered growth in housing that we see in major cities across the country. These new policies are intended to make sure that Canadians are able to manage their household debt and their mortgages. All one needs to do is look around the city to see the impact of growth all around us. Condominium developments pop up on every corner reaching ever taller heights to try and keep up with the demand for new housing across the city. The amount of development is staggering. In the next five years it is estimated that the greater Toronto region will play host to almost a million new residents.
While growth like this means we have a healthy economy and that the city re-mains a destination for development, we have not seen the same attention to infrastructure growth and spending. Infrastructure growth, like public transit, roads, libraries and schools, takes time and planning and moves slower because it is mandated by public expenditure rather than private capital. We need to tie the physical development and the proliferation of condominiums to economic growth by making developers contribute to infrastructure spending.
All these new building sites have meant that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has been putting signs and placards on construction sites notifying families who move into their new homes that their children are not guaranteed a spot at local schools. For new residents and parents it is a frustrating experience. After finding new housing and moving into new neighbourhoods, the last thing any parent wants is to see their children denied access to local schools.
The problem has been that infrastructure spending, planning and development hasn’t kept up with growth in new housing. The city, the province and the TDSB need to work together to develop long-term policies to address problems that lead the TDSB to deny children entry to local schools. TDSB is the largest school board in the country and one of the oldest. It faces not only aging infrastructure (most of our schools are at least 100 years old) but also funding policies that are sadly out of date. In Toronto Centre, schools which are in need of infrastructure spending are also over or near student capacity. Because it is easier to move students rather than schools, TDSB needs help from the province to address these issues.
Unfortunately, the province is still putting pressure on the TDSB to close what they identify as under-utilized facilities. But as more and more families move Downtown, core enrolments are only going to rise. We need a way to balance needs with population growth. In the long run the current policies dictated by the province which force school closures because of excess capacity across the whole system are short sighted. After Regent Park/Duke of York school was closed in 2013, the Catholic School Board bought the property and was able to redevelop the site for their needs.
We need a policy change at the provincial level. It is time for the province to re-view policies that tie the hands of the TDSB and to prepare for future growth in the city. The province needs to develop innovative ways to help TDSB address its capital repairs problems. The Catholic School Board redeveloped Regent Park/Duke of York because they are able to use Education Development Charges (EDCs), which TDSB can’t access. These fees are paid by developers allow school boards to top up provincial funding for future infrastructure growth. We need a similar funding formula in order to address not only existing infrastructure problems but also the building of new schools.
Under current provincial legislation (O.Reg. 20/98: Section 257.4) schools boards across the province can use EDCs only if they meet a stringent set of guide-lines. According to a 2014 TDSB report, “…eligibility cannot be met in the TDSB due to projected excess capacity system-wide, and consequently, the board has been unable to access significant revenues from development.”
This has meant that TDSB can’t use funds from development to address infra-structure needs. If it could use those funds, the projected capital—based on the current funding model for the Catholic School Board—could be almost $100 mil-lion a year to address not only a backlog in school repairs and maintenance but also to ensure that every child has access to education in their own neighbourhood.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, who was once chair of the TDSB, knows the problems and difficulties that face the largest school board in Canada. We need her government to work with the board and the city to address funding, development and planning issues. Only by coming together can we ensure that every child is able to access education and to realize their full potential.