NDP, parents push government to repair and cool schools

New Democrats and parents are pleading with the Ontario government to funnel more money into schools they say are not just uncomfortable but unsafe.

Outside Toronto's Clinton Street Junior Public School Wednesday, NDP education critic Marit Stiles highlighted a $15.9 billion capital repair backlog at Ontario schools. The backlog at the Toronto District School Board facilities alone totals $4 billion.

"That means leaky roofs, that means boilers that need replacing and it means that things like air conditioning in our classrooms are bumped down the list of priorities," Stiles said.

To help chip away at the backlog, Stiles suggests builders should have to pay an education development charge for any condo or townhome project.

"The government has the ability, it exists. Some school boards can take advantage of it. Boards like the Toronto District School Board, for some unknown reason, are not able to access those charges."

Stiles' face glistened with sweat as she and activists spoke with reporters on a day with record-setting heat and high humidity. While they focused much of their attention on cooling schools down, Krista Wylie with Fix Our Schools stresses the repair backlog total doesn't include cooling efforts.

"That is deemed I guess by our provincial government to be a frill," Wylie said.

Kelly Johnson says things were so bad in her 10-year-old son's third-floor classroom at Clinton Street Junior Public Tuesday she planned to pull him out of school Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson says her son had a white ring around his mouth and nose when she picked him up after his first day.

"He was bright red, hair sticking to his head. He told me that when he was filling out something...about his summer, that sweat was dripping so badly onto his page that it got wet," Johnson said. 

"It's unsafe and unhealthy and not an environment any of us would consider working in. If that happened in your workplace, you would complain to your boss. Something would get done about it."

In a statement, Education Minister Lisa Thompson says school boards will receive up to $1.4 billion for maintenance and repair funding this school year.

The TDSB is in the process of setting up cooling centres in libraries, gymnasiums and other bigger spaces in schools without AC. Parents at Clinton Street Junior Public School don't think the move is sufficient.