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'Decades of neglect': MPP calls out Ontario education minister over flooding at west-end Toronto school

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Toronto MPP Bhutila Karpoche used her umbrella to shield herself from heavy rain Monday morning when she walked over to a high school in her riding to speak with Grade 10 students. The last thing she expected was to need to use it inside.

Karpoche told CP24 that when she arrived at Humberside Collegiate Institute she was advised there would be a “short delay” before she could head over to the auditorium.

The Parkdale-High Park New Democratic Party MPP said that she waited as staff hurried to section off several parts of the school that had been flooded.

In a now-viral post on X, Karpoche said that the school’s principal then took her around the building to show her what happens every time heavy rain falls. The principal told her there are 20 spots inside Humberside that must be checked for water, she said.

Karpoche took photos and videos of the mess and posted them on social media.

In one clip, rain can be heard and seen falling from the ceiling above a stairwell. She said that an entire section of a stairwell spanning three floors was closed due to flooding. That water then pooled and leaked into the hallway, Karpoche wrote.

In another video, which was taken inside Humberside’s auditorium, garbage bins and buckets are seen being used to collect rain falling from the ceiling.

Water pools on a stairwell at Humberside Collegiate Institute on May 27 following a heavy rainfall. (MPP Bhutila Karpoche photo)

Karpoche also shared footage of what she described as a “massive pool of water” in the school’s basement, which she said blocked students from entering classrooms and lockers, and from using the elevator.

“Not only does this disrupt learning, but it's also a major accessibility barrier and safety concern,” she wrote.

“This poses a serious health and safety risk for students and staff in the school. If they aren’t repaired, mold will grow and spread, making an already bad situation worse. People can slip and fall. It threatens the structural integrity of the building. What if the roof caves in?”

During an interview with CP24.com, Karpoche expressed her outrage at the disrepair at Humberside.

“I’m angry, really angry because this is the state of our public schools. It’s completely unacceptable. … What about the students and the staff who have to teach and learn in these conditions?” she said.

Karpoche said Ontario’s long-standing school repair backlog, which in 2022 topped $16.8 billion, is to blame.

“The problems are getting worse and worse, but the repairs aren’t being done,” she said, calling what happened at Humberside a symptom of “decades of neglect on the part of the (provincial) government.”

She said this problem affects all publicly funded schools across Ontario.

“At the end of the day, the province is responsible for funding the repairs of our schools. There has been a serious lack of funding for school repairs and now they are literally crumbling,” said Karpoche, noting that this year’s provincial budget once again does not include dedicated funding to address the repair backlog.

During Wednesday afternoon’s question period, a heated exchange took place between Karpoche and Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce when she asked him what is being done across the province to fix schools, like Humberside, which she said is in “desperate need of major repairs.”

“Minister, you know the problem very well, you have underfunded school repairs for years,” Karpoche said.

“Now we've reached rock bottom. It doesn't get any worse than this when it comes to building maintenance. If the images and videos I've shared doesn't lead the minister to fix the schools, I don't know what will? I want the minister to fix the schools. Are you going to fix it?”

MPP Bhutila Karpoche speaks at the Ontario Legislative Assembly on May 29, 2024.

Lecce, in his response, put the blame on schools boards and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), saying they need to “do their job.”

He said the Doug Ford government has doubled funding to build more schools and that since 2018 they’ve recommended that 2.5 per cent of the provincial budget, to the tune of $1.4 billion annually, be dedicated to school maintenance.

“The TDSB is sitting on banked money in their maintenance fund of $350 million. Just make sure we understand, our school board is sitting on $300 million of cash instead of spending it on that very roof,” he said, adding they’ve had to pass a law to force school boards to spend their maintenance funding in a timely way.

Karpoche chose to not ask a follow-up question, instead she implored Lecce to take action now to address this problem.

“I don't want to hear excuses. I don't want to hear talking points. … What I want the minister to do is to take the time, go to the school and fix it. You are the minister of education, the buck stops with you!”

Lecce, meanwhile, urged her to stand up to the boards of education, which he said are “hoarding cash” and not upholding their “obligations under law to make sure kids are learning in safe spaces.”

“Get on board and stand up for kids,” he said.

TDSB says its has a maintenance and repair backlog of more than $4 billion

The TDSB, meanwhile, said that facilities staff are on site at Humberside CI and will be investigating what caused the leak, which spokesperson Ryan Bird said occurred “over one of the stairwells.”

“In the meantime, the stairwell is blocked off and students and staff are being redirected to alternate stairs and exits,” he said, adding that the school has had “minor leaks in that area before.”

Bird told CP24.com that he is unaware of the 20 spots that need to be checked at Humberside for flooding when it rains.

“Of note, while the TDSB spends millions of dollars each year on roof replacements and repairs, we currently have an overall maintenance and repair backlog of more than $4 billion,” he added.

Currently, the board is staring down a $26.5 million deficit for the 2024-25 school year, despite chopping $17 million from its budget. Requests have been made to the province for relief funding, but the provincial government has not agreed to provide additional cash to the TDSB.

In a follow-up statement, the board said that it spent about $370 million dollars last year on repairs and renewal projects and anticipates “spending even more this year.”

“Despite this record spending, our maintenance and repair backlog remains at more than $4 billion dollars. As it can sometimes take two years to plan, design and then issue a major project for tender and complete the work, there is approximately $380 million that has been assigned to projects, but not yet spent,” said Bird, who noted that they are “working as quickly as possible to move these projects along, but like all sectors, we too are experiencing delays in receiving materials, receiving approvals and the availability of qualified tradespeople – an issue that has only been made worse by the global pandemic, which brought most projects to a halt for more than a year.

Bird went on to say that the TDSB recently approved its Strategic Capital Revitalization Plan to address its maintenance and repair backlog, but needs the “cooperation and approval’ from the Ministry of Education and the ability to consolidate schools to move forward. However, the province has prohibited school boards from doing so, he said, “leaving us spending limited resources on aging buildings that in some cases, should have been consolidated years ago.”

Ontario schools dealing with a $15 billion repair backlog, says group

Krista Wylie, co-founder of the parent-led, non-partisan campaign Fix Our Schools, said that the province putting the blame on school boards for their inability to reconcile the massive repair backlog is a “narrative” that has been going on for decades.

“There hasn’t been enough money for school repairs since 1995,” she said, adding the TDSB has become an “easy scapegoat.”

Wylie said that from 1995 – when the Mike Harris Conservative government slashed funding for the repair and maintenance of schools in Ontario – until 2014, the year Fix Our Schools was established, a $15-billion shortfall accumulated.

“School boards are trying their best. They’re being forced into a position of choosing between bad and worse. There’s no good decision for them,” she said.

“(Addressing this problem) requires a massive cash infusion. … The province has to be where the buck stops.”

Wiley noted that according to industry standards at least $1.4 billion is currently needed each year to keep schools in Ontario in a state of good repair.

For the 2023-24 school year, the province said that it is providing school boards with approximately that amount in funding to revitalize and renew aged building systems and components. The same amount has been allocated for the 2024-25 school year.

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