Ontario’s largest school board is voicing its concerns about the province’s new education legislation, saying it will weaken the role of school trustees in several matters.
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair Rachel Chernos Lin enumerated the concerns about Bill 98 during a deputation before the province’s standing committee on social policy and were shared on Tuesday evening in a news release.
If the legislation, also known as the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Actis passed, the TDSB said it would remove the important role of trustees in determining which school board sites should be declared surplus based on the unique needs of the community.
“We are deeply concerned that Bill 98 appears to remove the very important role of elected boards of trustees in a number of critical areas. Whether it is deciding which schools are needed in our neighborhoods or setting the priorities of the school board for years to come, the voice of unique communities that trustees bring to these decisions should not and cannot be overridden by the provincial government,” Lin said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce tabled the bill last month, saying its goal is to modernize the province’s education system.
A significant part of the legislation is dedicated to establishing a framework for surplus school property, which can include facilities that have been closed or will not be used to accommodate future students.
The minister of education may also direct a school board to sell or dispose of a school site, part of a school site, or other property that is not meeting current or future needs. The province will also be given the first right of refusal on surplus land being sold or leased.
Another concern is that the legislation indicates the ministry would have the ability to override local priorities in the TDSB’s multi-year plans.
“School boards play a vital role in making sure local priorities are reflected in public education. It is critical that the province continues to provide significant space for this local input,” the TDSB said.
It added that Bill 98 would also impact the Toronto Lands Corporation (TLC), which oversees the TDSB’s real estate, leasing and land use planning. With the legislation providing specific powers to the minister relating to board-controlled entities, the TDSB said any changes that will impact TLC need to be clearly communicated in advance.
Other concerns include the ministry’s new ability to assign “support personnel” to the boards, changes to the role of the integrity commissioner, and how it plans to reduce barriers in multi-use buildings to address accommodation in urban/high-growth areas.
“While the TDSB appreciates the need to better standardize design standards for new schools, and the costs that will be saved as a result, flexibility is needed for schools in dense urban areas like Toronto which require unique floor plans and are located in highly constrained environments ,” the board said.
– with files from Katherine DeClerq