School boards could help taxpayers cover safety measures costs by reining in wasteful spending

jasmine pickel

Jasmine Moulton is the Ontario Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The Ontario government recently announced that it would be providing over $300 million for COVID-19 safety measures in schools as they reopen this fall. This funding will cover additional staffing, nurses, custodians, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment. This is the highest per-pupil investment in COVID-related initiatives across the country.

Unsurprisingly, Ontario teachers’ unions are demanding more.

No reasonable person would object to spending on safety measures for kids. But it is unreasonable for Ontario school boards and teachers’ unions to continue spending lavishly and wasting money while expecting taxpayers to foot the entire bill.

Let’s consider some examples of wasteful and excessive spending in our public education system.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford offered to fund line-by-line audits for school boards last year, but only three of the province’s 72 school boards took him up on the offer. But don’t interpret their rejection of his offer as proof that no further efficiencies exist.

The largest school board in the province and country – the Toronto District School Board – opted out of provincial competitiveness legislation last summer that would have made its construction tendering more competitive. The TDSB could have saved up to $53 million each year by opening its tendering process on maintenance and construction work.

The TDSB voted to restrict bidding to a select group of unions, effectively signing up for more needlessly inflated construction bills such as the one it received for $143 to install a pencil sharpener with four screws, or $857 for a 24-hour job to hang three photos on a wall.

Instead of saving money through some much needed reform in its construction contracting department, the TDSB considered cutting classes for students this fall in order to cover the COVID-19 safety measures for which the province has now offered to pay.

Perhaps the most excessive area of school board spending is compensation. Employee compensation accounts for 78 per cent of school boards’ spending – teachers make up 48 per cent of total school board spending and other employees account for 30 per cent.

Last year, the province offered government employees (including teachers) a one per cent raise each year for the next three years. Each one per cent raise for government employees costs taxpayers $720 million.

But school boards already paid extremely well, as confirmed by a quick look at Ontario’s “most average city” (where many companies go to test products) – London Ontario.

Last year, there were 680 teachers in London’s two school boards (Thames Valley and London District Catholic School Board) on the province’s sunshine list of employees earning a salary of over $100,000 per year. This number does not include principals, vice principals, consultants, or other educational staff.

These top earning teachers earn a total compensation over $120,000 when taxpayer-funded pension contributions and benefits are tallied. With their new raise, these teachers will earn over $3,000 more in the next three years.

Comparatively, the median income in the London – Middlesex area is $37,617.

From February to May of this year, 2.2 million Ontarians lost their jobs or had hours reduced. The province’s revenues are expected to decline by 14 per cent – nearly $22 billion – this year.

Ontario taxpayers couldn’t afford this before COVID-19 economic downturn, and we certainly can’t afford it now. The well is dry.

There’s no price taxpayers wouldn’t pay to keep kids safe in school, but the government must put an end to the wasteful and excessive spending by teachers’ unions and school boards first.

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