Sunday, February 13, 2011

MacDonald on FDK costs

Another thought-provoking piece from the Toronto Sun's Moira MacDonald, this time on implementation costs for the province's full-day kindergarten program.
Schools chosen for this year — the program’s first year — and next have been the easy ones, those with enough space to handle the program without having to do much.
But everyone agrees year three — 2012/13 — is when the serious money must kick in.
The program can’t continue to be rolled out without significant construction to expand existing school space and tailor it to kindergarten children’s needs.
Elizabeth Moyer, a trustee with the Toronto District School Board, says the preliminary numbers she’s seen for the capital costs at her board are “just obscene. No one’s going to pay for it.”
Portables will be a part of the mix where capital dollars are not enough to add real bricks and mortar.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association told me portables will be necessary in some areas, although boards will try hard to avoid them.
The response from Peel District School Board spokesman Brian Woodland when I asked if his high-growth board would need them to accommodate the program in year three?
“Oh God, yes!” 
I agree the year one and two sites were the "easy" ones-- boards were outright told to prioritize based on need, with the strong caveats of suitable space with little capital dollars needed. So all the schools that had available purpose-built space were used first. Then came the ones that had available classrooms that could be easily converted into kindergarten spaces.
Next come the classrooms that cannot easily be converted into kindergarten spaces -- the ones that aren't anywhere near plumbing in schools built before each classroom had a water fountain or sink, for example. Or the ones that are too small, which would realistically require knocking down walls and amalgamating two classrooms into one (if the school has that space, if not, then as MacDonald says that means portables).
Let me add the additional thought, because I know some boards are doing this in line with their larger capital planning. If an old school (built in the 1950s-70s) requires significant updates, replacements, is under capacity and needs physical work to accommodate full-day kindergarten, how is it not now a candidate for school-closure review? The consolidated school that could result at the end of the process would have the suitable kindergarten space and building new (on a classroom basis) is usually less expensive than renovating and retrofitting.
It means it's not just capital for full-day kindergarten that many boards are facing. It can't be considered exclusively in a time when virtually every board is also dealing with declining student enrolments and facilities that were built over a generation ago and aren't living up to the needs of the kids who learn there today.
MacDonald also puts forth the idea of limiting full-day kindergarten to only five-year-old children and getting rid of junior kindergarten altogether, with a wink to Tim Hudak, whose platform in this subject is decidedly weak.
That kicker is almost a whole other column unto itself!


Anonymous said...

Whether or not one agrees with the idea of FDK it isn't reassuring that a realistic cost calculation wasn't put together.

It appears Dalton McGuinty did significantly alter the plan originlly proposed by Charles Pascal and add considerably to staffing costs. I wonder if this is one of the consequences...?

Education Reporter said...

Anon 14 Feb. 22:23
I think a realistic cost calculation has been put together. The province negotiated wages and benefits at discussion tables in the last round of contracts. It's prepping to do so again for the pending round.
The ministry also has, somewhere, the capital assessments of every school in the province. They have the capacity to know very, very well what buildings need upgrades, renos and expansions in order to accommodate the program at full rollout.
I would expect more details on capital funding to accommodate years three through five in the coming year-- if not as part of the election platform.

Of course, you also need to realize that capital funding for a lot of the work that has been done in the last five years or so has been financed. The province approves the projects based on the boards mortgaging the construction costs, with the guarantee that the province annually provides the board with the money to make the payments.

Some call that smart capital financing, levraging the construction costs over the lifetime of the building. Others, who prefer upfront capital-cost payments, call it mortgaging our future.


Anonymous said...

Permit me to disagree with you ER. McGuinty was the first one to admit at the launch of FDK that he couldn't meet the costs. I still believe the costs to be incomplete because neither they, or any reporter will know for sure what they will be - just that eventually the demand for FDK may fall by the wayside in communities where there is little demand - like mine. Unless there's a baby boom in mid-western Ontario in the next decade I can see boards opting out of the FDK - almost feeling like Hudak's stance - as invisible as that is.

FDK should never have been mandated by all boards to comply. It's just not sustainable that way.