Deconstructing the spin: the devil is in the details

di Joe Volpe del 22 October 2020

TORONTO - Yesterday, we acknowledged the Province’s initiative in allocating $24 million for Loretto Abbey High School. It is part of a $550 million “notional capital expenditure plan” for school upgrades and new construction for “student places” – including child-care.

The $550 million may be a component of Ontario’s share - $750 million – of the $2 Billion the Federal Government made available on August 25, 2020, to prepare Canada for school re-openings. How?

Critics have said too many school districts lack systems for monitoring staff and students for symptoms, and too many schools have antiquated ventilation systems. Loretto Abbey would certainly bee n near the top of that list. So would St Charles elementary school, the orphaned child of the TCDSB in trustee Rizzo’s Ward.

"In the area of ventilation, the province recently announced an additional $50 million," said Lecce on the day of the announcement. An unkind soul might have inferred that the Minister might have been admonishing any Board for not accessing those funds.

Lecce said that “school boards have been told to upgrade their ventilation systems to ensure that older buildings are at an acceptable standard for the return of school”. That was a mere seven weeks ago.

Covid-19 pressed the Feds to come up with more money for personal protective equipment and for improving and expanding the schools’ infrastructure, if for no other reason than to inhibit the spread of the virus in at-risk neighbourhoods.

Unlike St. Charles, Loretto Abbey is not located in one of those neighbourhoods, even if it is riddled with asbestos, mold, problems with its heating and ventilation systems etc. One needs only read the TCDSB Staff reports on the school to keep the list going.

On that day, August 25, the Minister of Education felt it was important to remind Ontario that, "in the area of ventilation the province recently announced an additional $50 million," said Lecce.

More telling, and perhaps to ward off any negative comparisons with the federal announcement, he added, "on an annual basis, every single year, under this government we're allocating $1.4 ($1.562) billion in maintenance and renewal funding." That is approximately 5% of the total budgeted for education spending. The $750 offered by the federal authorities would have represented an increase of 50%, in this year for “maintenance and renewal”.

But enough about mathematics and intended programs. TCDSB staff reports and engineering studies both indicate that the Loretto Abbey site would require upwards of $60 million to make the school “operable and safe”. Or some magic wand.

Trustee Rizzo made caustic allusion to that and to the “three magicians” from Queen’s Park when called to the podium to represent the Board. Perhaps she was concerned that the electoral constituency adjacent to the school had become vacant with the resignation of the former Premier and the school would become a “political football”.

There is no approved plan for preferred improvements at the school and, thanks to Covid-19 and to foreign affairs challenges with China, Loretto Abbey is unlikely to fill its vacancies with International students.

Moreover, the “new leader” of the Liberal Party, Steven Del Duca, may be drawn into the discussion. He is without a seat in the Legislature what “issue” will launch his next career?


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