Ford government cuts Ontario school repair fund, will cost Hamilton schools $2.15M
Public school board chair says funding was set to replace lighting, water boilers and windows
Hamilton's public school board is scrambling to find alternative funding sources after Ontario's new Tory government scrapped a $100-million fund for school repairs and updates for the upcoming school year.
School boards were told on July 3 that the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund would be eliminated and that only work contracted on or before that date would be covered.
In Hamilton, that means the school board is suddenly out over $2.15 million — and that was cash it was counting on to replace things like lighting, water boilers and windows in schools across the city, said Todd White, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
"It concerns us greatly that we're moving in a direction of cuts," White said.
"For many years, we've been in a position where we're just trying to keep our heads above water, to keep our facilities operating, and many facilities haven't seen investment for decades."
The province has an approximate $15 billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly funded schools.
We're simply trying to catch up at this point, and if grants are cancelled or clawed back, it puts us in a tough position to provide great schools in every area of the city.- Todd White, HWDSB chair
Hamilton's public board did have a plan in place to revitalize its schools over an eight-year period — but question marks now loom with funding uncertainty.
The cuts come as a result of Premier Doug Ford's campaign promise to scrap the province's cap-and-trade system. He revoked the regulation laying out the program as one of his first acts after he was officially sworn in on June 29.
Tories had strong mandate to end cap and trade: spokesperson
White told CBC News that the school board has been working hard to get all of its facilities under control and ensure that they are sustainable into the future.
"For years, you'd hear about how our schools are under funded, and essentially we allowed them to crumble. Then you get to the point where it's no longer financially feasible to renovate them — in many cases, it's cheaper to knock them down and build new," he said. "The reason it gets to that point is we haven't maintained these facilities properly.
"So if you cut maintenance dollars and revitalization dollars, essentially what you're doing is deferring the cost down the road, which eventually might end up costing you more when facilities start to crumble and those big ticket items really diminish the quality of those schools."
Ford's spokesperson Simon Jefferies said the Tories received a strong mandate from voters to end cap and trade.
"To ensure an orderly wind-down of programs funded through the cap-and-trade carbon tax, the government will honour arrangements where contracts have already been signed and orders have already been made," he said in a statement.
"Decisions to continue any specific initiatives will be made on a case-by-case basis."
'It was done just like if it was nothing'
Stephen Seaborn, spokesman for the education advocacy group Campaign for Public Education, said the loss of this funding will hurt schools across Ontario.
"It's bad," he said. "It was done just like as if it was nothing. There was no discussion about what would be done about the budgets of the schools."
Seaborn said the cancellation of cap and trade has clearly had unintended consequences and this is a prime example.
"My message for the premier is watch what you do," he said. "It has huge implications for 2 million school kids across the province."
White said the plans the board had for that $2.15 million weren't "lavish, extravagant revitalization plans," but "basic benchmarks that the ministry identifies as necessities for a school built in 2018.
"We're simply trying to catch up at this point, and if grants are cancelled or clawed back, it puts us in a tough position to provide great schools in every area of the city."
- The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board originally reported the amount of funding it would lose due to this program cut was $4 million. It later reported the amount is actually over $2.15 million.Jul 10, 2018 2:56 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press