A CTV Toronto investigation has revealed that tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on paint jobs and spruce-ups at the cash-strapped Toronto District School Board over the past two years, including a “royal” paint job that cost $16,000.

TDSB work-order expenses obtained by CTV News has uncovered thousands spent on decorating and facelifts at schools between 2012 and 2013, including a spruce-up at an elementary school ahead of a visit by a member of the Royal Family, a high school anniversary celebration, and planters for a play area that came with a price tag of nearly $12,000.

According to documents, the board spent more than $16,000 to re-paint several areas of Market Lane Public School in preparation for a September 2012 visit from Sophie Rhys-Jones, the wife of Britain’s Prince Edward. The Countess of Wessex visited the elementary school during a one-week tour of Canada with her husband.

In 2013, Malvern Collegiate was also given a fresh coat of paint to the tune of more than $70,000 ahead of the high school’s 110th anniversary. In this case, the board’s facilities department told CTV Toronto that the work was long overdue, but was sped up for the anniversary celebration.

Other expenses revealed in the documents include:

  • More than $9,000 on a paint job at Millwood Junior School last March for the school’s 50th anniversary
  • Nearly $12,000 spent on planters at Ionview Public school in 2013 to create what the board called an “outdoor classroom.”
  • Nearly $4,000 to adjust clocks for daylight saving at 150 schools
  • More than $150 to install a pencil sharpener

The big-ticket expenses come at a time when the cash-strapped board is under the microscope for its spending. And this is not the first time: the TDSB restructured its organization in 2012, after coming under fire for high repair costs and labour.

Though the board said the planters were for vegetables and plants for an outdoor classroom, the facilities department admits some of the expenses should not have been incurred. With 185,000 work orders each year, they say, there are bound to be some errors.

And, the pencil sharpener was costly because it wasn’t installed by a caretaker, but rather by a unionized employee. The cost included travel time for the employee doing the work. The person in charge of that work order has since been fired, as have dozens of staff due to similar mistakes.

But Steve Shaw, senior TDSB facilities manager said the majority of recent expenses is money well-spent.

“We believe that a safe, welcoming and warm environment is good for kids, it’s good for learning,” Shaw told CTV Toronto. “We try and get the best bang for our buck.”

The TDSB said it has also cracked down on spending. Last year, about $5 million was cut from the maintenance budget. Next year’s budget is looking to be trimmed in the range of $3-5 million.

“We’re working to be transparent and accountable,” Shaw said. “We’ve installed GPS in our vehicles, we’re looking at staff productivity levels, we’re counselling people who aren’t performing, and we’re making sure the work is getting done … in a cost-effective manner.”

The TDSB has faced a serious budget crunch in recent years. In June, trustees struggled with a nearly $30-million shortfall in the operating budget in an attempt to balance the books.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness