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Ontario to give itself more powers over school boards and sale of unused property for housing

Ontario unveiled new legislation Monday with the goal of modernizing Ontario’s education system while also giving the government the ability to sell or revamp unused school property for other priorities such as housing.

The changes were outlined in a bill titled The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act and was tabled a day after Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province would hire 1,000 new teachers to “boost” math and literacy.

The goal of the legislation, officials said, is to create consistency and transparency across Ontario’s 72 school boards as well as improve how school board capital assets are managed.

The bill will also facilitate more training for teachers and ensure regular reviews of Ontario’s curriculum based on “labour market and learning needs.”

“I think our schools do great work. I just think we could do a lot better,” Lecce told reporters on Monday. “My mission is: we should lift our standards, We've got to lift the ambitions of kids. There are too many children living in a basement, too many kids who lost hope in our province and country. It's not their fault. We can do something better.”

“The point is that schools need to be emphasizing and focusing on strengthening skills that matter to parents, mastering the skills that are going to help young people succeed in whatever discipline they choose.”

Lecce reiterated the plan will “focus on the basics,” but did not go into much detail about what that would entail or what school boards were missing in their original development plans. The minister said instead that Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores were lower than expected.

However the President of the Ontario Public School Boards Association told CTV News Toronto she doesn’t understand why those scores are being used as a measurement of academic success, considering the impacts of the pandemic.

“Why would we be surprised when the EQAO scores are down after two full years basically, pandemic learning,” Cathy Abraham said.

“I also want to just say that being in school is about more than just being able to do math or read a paragraph or write a paragraph and then go get a job.”

Here’s what will change if the legislation passes:

The Ontario government will be able to set out “provincial education priorities on student achievement” and require school boards to publicly post about their progress.

Trustees and senior school board officials will receive standardized training in order to deliver on these “provincial priorities.”

Officials did not specify what would constitute a provincial priority, saying only that it will be “set out in regulation.”

Boards will need to transparently outline their spending.

An impartial integrity commissioner process will be created to help resolve code of conduct complaints. Officials said more information on this process will come at a later date after consultation with the sector.


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 goal, officials said, is to better leverage propriety for public education and other “provincial priorities” such as long-term care homes and affordable housing.

As such, the minister of education may also, if the legislation is approved, direct a board to sell or dispose of a school site, part of a school site, or other priority if it 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. As it stands now, the government was one agency among many public entities that were notified of a sale.

Officials said that if there is a need, the property would first be sold to another school board. However, if it is not needed in the education sector, the Ministry of Infrastructure would consider the property for other purposes.

If the property is not needed, officials said it would be sold in the open market at fair market value.

“It's about better maximizing our real estate portfolio,” Lecce said. “We don't even know the inventory of what schools are available and not even being used for learning.”

At the same time, officials clarified that a moratorium on school closures, which would open up further property for sales, remains in effect. The moratorium does not apply to schools that are rented or used for storage, Lecce said.

Abraham noted that it is “not beneficial” for a school board to hang on to a vacant school, and will only keep a building if there is a use for it in the future.

“You might close that school but hang on to that building because you know that eventually the growth is coming in. You're never going to afford the land again,” she said, adding that school boards do have to report on how they are using their buildings.

NDP Education Critic Chandra Pasma has suggested the legislation will allow the government to profit off the sale of school property.

“I'm concerned that the bill doesn't just limit the sale of properties from one school board to another, which would be one issue, but it allows for the sale … of these properties,” she said.

“This government has a track record of public lands going to developer friends so, are we going to see land that's owned by our school boards, that should be held in reserve for the growth of the community, actually being sold off to developers and then as communities grow, school boards needing to buy land back from developers at cutthroat rates?”

The legislation will also reduce barriers in “multi-use buildings to address accommodation needs in urban/high growth areas." No further details were provided about the kind of barriers the province hopes to address.


The government says it will work with the Ontario College of Teachers and the faculties of education to modernize teacher training to focus on math, reading, and literacy.

There will also be formal guidelines created for a “transparent and predictable curriculum review process.” This review will take the labour market and learning needs into account, officials said.

The government will also aid in communicating provincial priorities with parents and fostering parent involvement in school board activities.

In addition to training, the province says it will also enable “more efficient disciplinary processes,” and add remedial training and education as new sanctions.


On Sunday, Lecce said the province will spend more than $180 million to support the hiring of 1,000 new teachers as well as support its mandated financial literacy and coding curriculum.

About $109.1 million will be put into early reading, which will include 700 more teachers, training in “new approaches to reading instruction” and universal screening for students in Year 2 of Kindergarten to Grade 2.

The province has said there will be “tiered support” for those that need it.

The province has also promised an “overhauled language curriculum” in September, with an emphasis on early age basic literacy.

The remaining $71.8 million will be spent on doubling the number of math facilitators and creating a “math action team” to work with school boards to improve scores, the ministry said.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said they were blindsided by both the announcements made on Monday and Sunday, saying this shows a “clear lack of consideration and respect for education stakeholders.”

“In the government’s own materials, they state that ‘Ontario is among the top-performing education systems nationally and internationally.’ So why is an overhaul necessary? What is their agenda? A refocusing of the education system should not include government overreach,” ETFO said in a statement.

The union said it was also not consulted on a new language curriculum and, if they were, they would have advocated for smaller class sizes, additional supports for students with special needs and a commitment to address violence in schools. Top Stories

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