School trustees or building contractors; decide

di Joe Volpe del January 31, 2018
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TORONTO -  Custodians of political institutions (“trustees”) and bureaucrats (career functionaries) have to guard themselves against making whimsical or unsustainable decisions with other people’s (the taxpayer) money. It is not always easy. 
The temptation to do something stupid – not to put too fine a point on it – is always there. 
Thankfully, there are still good men or women capable of “stepping back” from [what has become] unjustifiable.
It is what one might expect from an organization with good governance practices, or, failing that, in some “values-based” organizations like Catholic School Boards, sound ethical practices.
First, they need to re-assess the underlying premises of their original decisions: do they have foundations in vision statements and reliable, fact based, strategic plans? 
Secondly, do the original decisions withstand objective scrutiny?
Dante Alighieri Academy, in the Fraser Institute’s ranking of schools, is listed as the fourth worst high school in the TCDSB: it scored a 4.9 out of maximum of 10. Furthermore, it ranked 572nd of all the schools in Ontario. 
31.2% of its students are classified as special needs. It cries out for teaching strategies to address this shortfall in delivery of quality education.
In response, Trustee Maria Rizzo prefers to build another Dante Alighieri a mere 50 metres north of its current site. It will serve as a magic wand - when/if it is built in two years – and lift the academic scores from the floor. Or, it will serve another generation of students – brighter more upwardly mobile, academically aggressive students (some, perhaps, equipped with a revenue generating Student Visa).  
The Province has made available $32.8 million for the project, permitting, in December 2012, a joint venture with VCI that would allow for a $50 million shared use facility. The Director of Education in 2012 was a certain Bruce Rodrigues, now Deputy Minister of Education, and former colleague of the current Director, Rory McGuckin.
Initially, in 2011, a sum of $16.4 million was destined for “refurbishing”.  Now the total joint-venture project is, in the words of VCI’s CEO, Anthony DiCaita, valued at $74 million. “Estimated or projected” cost over-runs, one imagines, as is typical with government-financed projects.
See if the numbers add up. VCI has applied to the Ontario Infrastructure Fund to finance its half of the total. 
It will not own the building, apparently, after its construction. No-one is prepared to release details, evidently not even to Trustees of the TCDSB.
What is available is a Ministry of Education Facility Condition Index (FCI) Report for every school, 2011-2016. 
The closer a school’s FCI is to 100, the more eligible it to be “replaced”, because, in the words of another Trustee, Patrizia Bottoni, it would be too “dilapidated and decrepit” to house students.
Dante Alighieri has the TCDSB highest FCI – 86. Aside from a series of buildings “mothballed” for future use/sale (now covering as Monsignor Fraser College, Adult Education), there is only one other school with an FCI above 65. 
Loretto Abbey, a former convent school, and now Heritage site, has an FCI of 84
The Abbey was built in 1928, yet it is listed as having a “weighted age” of 49. 
Dante Alighieri Academy was built in 1976, in an architectural style to blend in with Villa Colombo next door. 
Its “weighted age” is/was in 2015 … 53. By the way, the “replacement value” of Dante is listed as $20, 634,261. Please appreciate the generosity of the $32.8 million for the new structure.
The “weighted age” of the elementary school next door, Regina Mundi, built two years earlier in 1974, is 38. 
Its FCI is also a mere 38, and the replacement value is $7,516,567. 
It students, 403 in 2016, will be moved into Dante Alighieri, dilapidated and decrepit as it is, according to the plan espoused by Trustee Rizzo and supported by Director McGuckin. Regina Mundi will then meet the wreckers ball.
St. Charles, another elementary feeder school, just to the east of Dante, with a replacement value of $7,832,246, has a “weighted age” of 59 – reflective of a school built in 1956, but is adorned with an FCI of 25. One has to visit all three sites to appreciate the irony.
In 2012, the justification for this was that Dante was overflowing with students – 1350 of them. About 350 of them had to be housed at Bathurst Heights Collegiate (now John Polanyi) built in 1954. 
Its FCI is …. Many of the students came from outside the area because the TCDSB had to accommodate students who were being temporarily relocated because their school south of St. Clair was being retrofitted. In 2016, Dante was home to 968 students. In September 2017, there were about 900, 31.6% needed English as a Second Language program. 
The joint venture project calls for a school that will accommodate between 850 and 950 students. 
Nothing in the proposal is directed to solving the academic issues outstanding.
In 2015, [then Chair] Trustee Del Grande announced a budget shortfall of $41.5 million, but still found $41 million to buy properties on which to build the New Dante. 
He is a friend and ally of Trustee Rizzo.
With the New Dante come about 3000 condominium units, and about $1.5 billions. Not students with better academic grades.
Trustee Rizzo appears to have intimidated Director McGuckin into doing her bidding. To stay the course and build. We do not know why. 
We don’t know if Deputy Minister Bruce Rodrigues has the courage to tell his former colleague that this is a bad deal. We also don’t know if he has recused himself from any decision regarding his former Board.
As of going to print we had not received an answer.

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