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Fund earmarked for school repairs axed

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TORONTO—Ontario's new Tory government has cancelled a $100-million fund earmarked for school repairs this year—a cut that comes as a result of Doug Ford's campaign promise to scrap the province's cap-and-trade system.

School boards were notified on July 3 that the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund would be eliminated and that only work contracted on or before that date would be covered.

The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press, advises school boards to stop spending the cash that was allocated in April immediately.

“Please maintain detailed records of the contracts that have been signed as ministry staff will contact boards to collect information on the scope of the work underway,” the memo said.

Toronto District School Board chair Robin Pilkey said the move is disappointing because that board has a $4-billion repair backlog.

The TDSB had budgeted $300 million for upkeep this fiscal year, including the $25 million it was awarded specifically from this fund, and now faces difficult choices, Pilkey said.

“Losing $25 million is a big deal to us," she stressed. ”Our repair backlog is so large that every piece counts.

“We'll have to make decisions in the next few weeks whether we don't do those projects or we take the money out of . . . other funds and scrap something else.”

The board had planned to use the funding to repair windows, lighting, and complete other mechanical work in its schools, Pilkey noted.

It's unlikely much of the money has been spent, however, because the board must hire contractors through the proper procurement process, which takes time, she said.

“It's not like you get the money on May 1 and can spend it on May 15,” Pilkey remarked.

“It takes a while to get the money flowing.”

The province has an approximate $15-billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly-funded schools.

Stephen Seaborn, spokesman for the education advocacy group Campaign for Public Education, said the cut will hurt schools across Ontario.

“It's bad," he said. ”It was done just like as if it was nothing.

“There was no discussion about what would be done about the budgets of the schools,” he charged.

Seaborn said the cancellation of cap-and-trade clearly has had unintended consequences and cutting funds for the renovation program is a prime example.

“My message for the premier is watch what you do," he remarked. "It has huge implications for two million school kids across the province.”

Ford campaigned on a promised eliminate cap-and-trade and revoked the regulation laying out the program as one of his first acts after he officially was sworn in on June 29.

Ford's spokesman Simon Jefferies said the Tories received a strong mandate from voters to end cap-and-trade.

“To ensure an orderly wind-down of programs funded through the cap-and-trade carbon tax, the government will honour arrangements where contracts have already been signed and orders have already been made,” he said in a statement.

“Decisions to continue any specific initiatives will be made on a case-by-case basis.”

But NDP MPP Peggy Sattler said the Ford government's decision to cut the fund will hurt Ontario's children.

“Kids finished the school year in sweltering classrooms, and by winter, they'll be wearing their coats and mittens at their desks,” Sattler said in a statement.

“There are water fountains that aren't safe to drink from and roofs that need to be replaced.”

Sattler said with a multi-billion-dollar repair backlog, Ontario's schools need investment, not cuts.

“It's sad that there is no hope coming for kids and educators, and absolutely disgusting that our children's classrooms is one of the first places Doug Ford's axe is falling,” she added.

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