Investigation Report — French-language schools in the Greater Toronto Area: When the most elementary becomes secondary
In this report, the French Language Services Commissioner is asking the provincial government to implement legislative and regulatory changes that would facilitate the transfer, between school boards, of unused land and properties declared surplus.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Regulatory and policy framework
Issues dealt with in the investigation
(A) Perceived shortage of French-language schools in the Greater Toronto Area
(B) Overall and French-language specific funding for education in Ontario
(C) Capital funding in support of French-language schools
(D) Operational funding in support of French-language education
(E) Potential barriers and challenges to accessing surplus properties in Ontario and, more specifically, in the Greater Toronto Area
Table 1 – Grants for student needs (GSN) funding for operating and other purposes
Table 2 – Average daily enrolment
Table 3 – Average per-pupil funding
Table 4 – French-language school count by board and panel for 2010-11
Table 5 – French-language school enrolment by board and by panel for 2009-10
Table 6A – French-language school utilization by board and by panel based on 2009-10 enrolment and current capacity
Table 6B – Toronto French-language school utilization by board and by school in the same area for 2010-2011
Table 7 – Enrolment and service level per board in 2008-09 and 2009-10
Table 8 – School-age (SA) students/enrolled students in Ontario
Table 9 – Enrolment and schools by school board type in Toronto for 2009-10
In November, 2010, a Francophone parent living in Toronto filed a complaint with the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (the Commissioner’s Office) claiming that there was an insufficient number of French-language secondary schools in Toronto. According to this parent, this situation left her with no suitable options for her two school-aged children who attended French-language elementary schools. Continuing their education in French would force them travel over two hours every day to the closest French language secondary school. Her other option was to transfer her children to the
English system and have them attend a local, easily accessible secondary school. According to this parent, this state of affairs meant inequitable access to secondary education for pupils in the French system compared to their peers in the English system. Moreover, it constituted an obstacle to her right — and her wish — to see her children master the French language and to preserve French as the language and culture of her family for generations to come. That parent also knows full well that French-language education at the elementary level is not enough to protect her children from the very real dangers of assimilation.
This complaint was only the first of a long series that the Commissioner’s Office would receive in the course of the following months. At the time of writing this report, the Office had received over 70 complaints related to the perceived lack of French-language schools in the Greater Toronto Area.
Indeed, several complainants allege that the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is failing to meet its legal obligations and responsibilities pursuant to current regulations. In particular, they maintain that their constitutional rights are not being respected due to a perceived shortage of French-language schools in their neighbourhood.
They further state that the few existing French-language schools are overpopulated and that children have to travel long hours to attend the nearest of these schools. A number of them have told the Commissioner’s Office that rather than imposing such a burden on their children, they are now considering sending them to an English or French-immersion school. They also allege that French-language regional schools do not offer the same level of quality academic and extracurricular programs and services as compared to English schools in their neighbourhood. According to them, this could have a detrimental effect on retention and recruitment of school children and may ultimately result in assimilation.
Finally some complainants contend that the alleged lack of appropriate capital funding for French schools also results in their constitutional rights to Frenchlanguage education being denied.
But we also heard cries for help from those parents. The choices that they and their children are faced with are disturbing:
“Our family chose to buy a house near the Georges Étienne Cartier school for our children to be able to attend a French-language Catholic school and avoid the long bus ride from our previous home to that school. Our youngest child is now in Grade 6 and will graduate from elementary school this year, in June 2011. My husband is an Anglophone who speaks French and I am incredibly lucky he so understands my will — indeed our will — to preserve French in the family and for our children to be able to pursue their French-language education, at least until the end of high school, opening many opportunities for them.
Given that Grade 6 is the last year offered at Georges Étienne Cartier, our youngest child will be changing schools in September 2011 to begin Grade 7 at Mgr de Charbonnel Roman Catholic secondary school (École secondaire catholique Monseigneur-de-Charbonnel). Mgr de Charbonnel is the only French-language Catholic secondary school in our area. Located at Yonge and Finch, on Drewry street, we really don’t think it’s “in our area,” but it is the only option if we want to remain in the French-language Catholic education system. From our home, our child is expected to be on the school bus for close to an hour each way, maybe longer. The TTC commute would take even longer. It seems almost an unacceptable commute for a child. I also understand that the commute for many other children in our child’s current school would be much longer. Furthermore, Mgr is a secondary school, therefore my child will be attending Grade 7 and Grade 8 alongside secondary school students. We wish he could experience the special transitional years of a separate middle school — the natural step after elementary school and in preparation for high school — like his friends in the English-language system, or like my husband’s experience in Montréal and mine in Timmins. But my son chose to attend Mgr nonetheless.
Together we had explored other options such as an English-language school with French immersion, not just because of the commute but also because of the wider array of programming, e.g. music, and other opportunities that are unfortunately not always offered in our Toronto French-language schools.
We speak English and French at home. We listen to music and the radio and watch TV in both languages. We understand the importance of learning French even at the secondary level, and if it weren’t for the courageous decision of our youngest child, we were quite ready to contemplate other options, including leaving the French-language system.
It’s radical, but we haven’t yet ruled it out completely.”
Here is another example:
“The elementary school (Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau) my children currently attend is too small. Despite adding two portables, we continue to lack space. The gym is too small. There is no space for extracurricular activities. The Grade 5 and 6 students are forced to eat in the younger students’ classrooms. It is ridiculous! The secondary school (Collège français) that my son will attend next year is in temporary accommodations for Grades 7 and 8, and the accommodations for the other grades are much too small and just inadequate. We are lucky to have access to French-language instruction, but it is far from being in the same league as what is available for English-language instruction. English-language students have access to far greater course selection, sports fields, and large enough premises to meet their needs, rather than having to squeeze in together. Come down to visit the Collège on Carlton St., then compare with an English secondary school. The difference is clear as day.
“The TDSB should let the public French-language school board acquire some of its premises that are either empty or aren’t being used as schools, and the Ministry should finance these acquisitions. In passing, it is just absurd for a school board to sell for millions of dollars a school that it purchased with public funds to another school board, which must then repurchase it using public funds. Why do tax payers need to pay for the same premises twice?”
Under the French Language Services Act (FLSA), the Commissioner’s Office is charged with conducting independent investigations, either following a complaint or on its own initiative. It is also responsible for preparing reports on its investigations and monitoring progress by government agencies in the delivery of French-language services in Ontario.1
Given the leadership role that Ministry plays in the provision of French-language education in Ontario, the Commissioner chose to exercise the authority granted under the FLSA and, on January 12, 2011, initiated a formal investigation into the matter.
Regulatory and policy framework
Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of education in French at the primary and secondary levels in minority settings. It states that: “Citizens of Canada […] whose first language […] is that of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or […] who have received their primary school instruction […] in English or French […] have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province”.2
The Preamble to the French Language Services Act states that: “… the French language is a historic and honoured language in Ontario and recognized by the Constitution as an official language in Canada; and whereas in Ontario the French language is recognized as an official language in the courts and in education; and whereas the Legislative Assembly recognizes the contribution of the cultural heritage of the French speaking population and wishes to preserve it for future generations.”3
The Education Act provides for the Minister of Education to administer the system of publicly funded primary and secondary education. Section 1(3) of the Act spells out the role that partners in education, such as the Minister, the Ministry and the boards, have to “play in enhancing student achievement and well-being, closing gaps in student achievement and maintaining confidence in the province’s publicly funded education systems.”4
Furthermore, the Ministry’s Aménagement Linguistique Policy, adopted in 2004, includes the following objectives: (i) to deliver high-quality instruction in French-language schools adapted to the minority setting, (ii) to educate young Francophones to become competent and responsible citizens, empowered by their linguistic and cultural identity, and (iii) to increase the vitality of educational institutions by focusing on student retention and increased enrolment, thus contributing to the sustainable development of the Frenchlanguage community in Ontario.5
The Ministry, in keeping with the spirit of the Education Act and the FLSA, pledges to: “make Ontario’s publicly funded education system the world’s best, where all students have the opportunity to achieve success.”6. Issues dealt with in the investigation. The Commissioner’s Office identified the following issues to investigate, arising from complaints received:
(A) Perceived shortage of French-language schools in the Greater Toronto Area;
(B) Overall and French-language specific funding for education in Ontario;
(C) Capital funding in support of French-language schools;
(D) Operational funding in support of French-language education;
(E) Potential barriers and challenges to accessing surplus properties in Ontario and, more specifically, in the Greater Toronto Area.
This report does not address the issue raised by some parents in regard to the same level of quality academic and extracurricular programs and services between French-language schools and English schools in their neighbourhood.
For the purposes of this investigation, the Commissioner’s Office collected information by contacting complainants, stakeholders and representatives of the Ministry on several occasions, either in person, by phone or by email. The Commissioner’s Office also collected and perused public domain and internal documentation, such as regulations, policies and memos. The Commissioner’s Office sent to the Ministry an investigation plan including a series of questions in order to obtain answers to issues arising from complaints. After receiving the responses from the Ministry and obtaining all required clarifications, the Commissioner’s Office analyzed the information and documentation, drew conclusions, articulated recommendations and proceeded with the writing of this investigation report, which focuses on the situation in Toronto, but will hopefully be applicable to other areas of Ontario facing similar circumstances. The level of cooperation demonstrated by the Ministry throughout this investigation is worthy of praise.
(A) Perceived shortage of French-language schools in the Greater Toronto Area As a first step in the investigative process, the Commissioner’s Office collected information and data from the Ministry of Education. The analysis of this data is contained in the following paragraphs. It is worth noting that the Ministry did not take into account the new Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF) in its figures. The Commissioner believes that this does not paint as complete a picture as the use of the IDF would have had.7 According to the Ministry’s data derived from the 2006 Census, there are approximately 2,237,470 school-age students in Ontario. Of that number, 93.9% (2,101,260) are English-language children and 6.1% (136,210) are potential Frenchlanguage rights holders.8 The Ministry also informed the Commissioner’s Office that total enrolment in
Ontario’s publicly funded school system was 2,052,654 in 2009-10, which represents 91.7% of the school-age population of 2006. In proportion, Englishlanguage enrolment in 2009-10 is 1,959,678 or 95.5% of all students attending Ontario publicly funded schools while French-language enrolment is 92,976 or 4.5% of all students attending Ontario’s publicly funded schools.9 Of that number, 23,555 or 25.3% attend public schools and 69,421 or 74.7% attend schools belonging to Catholic boards.10In Ontario, French-language school boards operate close to 400 schools (300 elementary (JK-6/JK-8) and close to 100 secondary (7-12 or 9-12)). The public boards operate 114 schools (75 elementary and 39 secondary) while the Catholic boards operate 284 schools (225 elementary and 59 secondary).11The proportion of French-language enrolment varies depending on the region.
In the North, the French-language school boards serve 22,709 students, which represent 18.5% of the total enrolment in that specific region. In the East, the French-language boards serve 41,442 students, which represent 15.8% of the total enrolment in that region. In the South, the French-language boards serve 29,357 students, which represent 1.8% of the total enrolment for that geographical area.12
There are three French-language school boards operating in the South-Central and South-West regions of Ontario: Conseil scolaire Viamonde (Viamonde): the public French-language school board serving the area comprised of Trenton to Windsor and from Niagara to cottage country;
Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud (CSDC Centre-Sud): the Catholic French-language school board serving the South-Central region;
Conseil scolaire de district des écoles catholiques du Sud-Ouest (CSDÉC du Sud-Ouest): the Catholic French-language school board serving the South-West region.
Viamonde’s share of French-language enrolment in the South and the Southwest is currently 27%. CSDÉC du Sud-Ouest and CSDC Centre-Sud serve a total of 73% of French-language students currently enrolled in French-language schools. In the Southwest, Viamonde serves 11.6% of the French-language enrolment and CSDÉC du Sud-Ouest serves 88.4%. According to the Ministry, in the South, Viamonde serves 36.8% of the French-language enrolment and CSDC Centre-Sud serves 63.2%.
In Toronto, there are 16 French-language schools that are administered by two French-language school boards. The public French-language school board (Viamonde) operates 7 elementary schools13 and 2 secondary schools14; the Catholic French-language school board (CSDC Centre-Sud) operates 6 elementary schools15 and 1 secondary school.16 This represents slightly less than 2% of current publicly funded schools in Toronto.17
Between 2008-09 and 2009-2010, enrolment in French-language schools in Southern Ontario increased by 1.3%18, which is mainly due to growth in Toronto and surrounding areas. It is important to note that English-language public school boards have been reporting and continue to report a decrease in enrolment numbers while English Catholic school board enrolment has been relatively steady in recent years, although down significantly since 2002-03. According to the 2006 Census, in Toronto, 3.2% of school-age children are French-speaking.19This means that, all things being equal, 3.2% of schools in Toronto should be dedicated to French-language education. Given that the current number of schools (English and French) in Toronto totals 82220, this would translate into a total of 26 French-language schools. Therefore, from a purely mathematical standpoint, there is shortage of 10 French-language schools in Toronto.
However, it should be noted that the English-language school boards in Toronto have some areas that have low utilization rates which might mean future school consolidations. Therefore, the true need for additional French-language schools in Toronto can be said to hover around 10, depending on the size, location, and the programs offered at each location.
It is worth mentioning that the recruitment rate from the pool of potential students is very high in areas where schools are accessible and in good locations and that, conversely, the recruitment rate is much lower in areas with poor access to French-language schools.21
In Toronto, in 2009-2010, French-language schools accommodated 1.2% of the 4-17 year-old cohort (i.e. 4,444 pupils).22 Based on the 3.2% ratio from the Census, this number should actually be closer to 12,665, which means that there is the potential of recruiting an additional 8,221 pupils into the French-language education system in Toronto.23 This number is not just important from an educational standpoint, but also from a cultural one. Indeed, minority language education rights are passed down from one generation to the next, which means that right holders who do not access French-language education are not “passing on” that right to their descendants — a situation that has dire consequences for the vitality and sustainability of the Franco-Ontarian community.
The average utilization rate of French-language schools is 67.9%.24 Overall, the average utilization rate by French-language boards ranges from 39.5% to 42.6% in the North and Northwest to a maximum of 85.2% to 88.4% in the South and Southwest.
As indicated previously, there are 13 French-language elementary schools in Toronto. Currently, 3,338 pupils attend these schools which, together, have a capacity of hosting 4,295 pupils. This means that the utilization rate of these schools is 78%. According to the Ministry, this is slightly below the average utilization rate of all publicly funded Ontario elementary schools, which is 83%. Also, there are three French-language secondary schools in Toronto. Currently, 1,456 pupils attend these schools that, together, have a capacity of hosting 1,543 pupils. This means that the utilization rate of these schools is 94%. This is slightly above the average utilization rate of all publicly funded Ontario secondary schools, which is 89%. It is worth mentioning that the utilization rates of 2 of the 3 French-language secondary schools in Toronto actually exceed their capacity. Both of these secondary schools are in the public system. It should also be noted that the only Catholic secondary school is located north of Highway 401; the Catholic board does not have a secondary school south of Highway 401.
When French school boards were created in Ontario, in 1998, they had to build their school system with facilities transferred from English-language school boards. Thus, many French-language schools are located on older premises that may be in need of considerable maintenance or refurbishing. Some buildings are also approaching the end of their lifespan.
However, since 2003, French-language school boards have built or replaced 50 schools across Ontario. According to the Ministry, they are also working on the planning and construction of an additional 28 schools. Eleven of these new schools belong either to Viamonde or CSDC Centre-Sud. These numbers do not include major retrofits, the opening of new programs in existing schools and future projects currently submitted by school boards under the capital priorities process.
Considering that, in Toronto, (i) there is considerable room for increasing recruitment in French-language schools, (ii) the number of French-language schools is proportionally inferior to the francophone population, (iii) Frenchlanguage schools occupy older buildings, and (iv) 2 out of the 3 secondary schools serving Toronto have an occupancy rate above 100%, the Commissioner’s Office is of the opinion that there is a shortage of Frenchlanguage schools in Toronto, especially at the secondary level. The Ministry has partly recognized this by providing funding approval in 2009 and 2010 for two new secondary schools for CSDC Centre-Sud in Toronto. Yet, time is running out to address the very serious shortage of at least one new French-language school at the secondary level in the eastern part of the City of Toronto. Parents and their children in this particular area, face difficult choices after Grade 8 — the word “choices” being used very loosely here —, as an inadequate offering of French-language schools is more akin to a constructive rejection of one’s constitutional right and the condoning of assimilation.
Access to the secondary level is of particular interest to the Commissioner’s Office, as statistics show a very large migration of students — close to 20% — from the French-language system to the English-language systems between Grade 8 and Grade 9 in the Southern region of Ontario. There can be little doubt that this situation is directly related to the inaccessibility of French-language schools since data demonstrates that retention rates decline as distance and inaccessibility of schools increase.25
The Commissioner’s Office is aware that Viamonde is currently building a new secondary school in Pickering and another one in Richmond Hill that will serve a number of students currently attending one of the board’s secondary schools in Toronto. As mentioned above, CSDC Centre-Sud is currently working to secure sites for two more secondary schools in Toronto. However, additional schools would be needed to serve all potential French-speaking students.
Given that schools are at the heart of communities;
Given that proximity to a school is a determining factor for parents making education decisions for their children;
Given that the Ministry of Education is aware of the lack of French schools in Toronto and its surrounding areas;
Given that French-language school boards have identified needs in Toronto and its surrounding areas;
Given that the density of the French-language population is generally low;
Given that the optimal size of a French-language high school requires a minimum population and density to support adequate course selection;
Given that the sharing of space and programs may represent a solution to providing French-language accommodation especially at the secondary level; and
Considering that the Ontario Government adopted in 2009 a new Inclusive Definition of Francophone in this province;
The Commissioner recommends that the Ministry of Education:
a) build or provide new facilities in underserved areas of the Greater Toronto Area in order to close the gap in the number of schools versus the number of French-language students;
b) direct all French-language boards in the Greater Toronto Area to work cooperatively in order to close that gap; and
c) use, from now on, the Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF) to identify French-language education needs.
(B) Overall and French-language specific funding for education in Ontario The Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Education (the Ministry), provides funding to school boards through Grants for Student Needs (GSN). GSNs are intended to provide funding to school boards in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.
These grants are distributed according to a funding formula that contains distinct operating and capital allocations. School boards are responsible for administering their capital and operating budgets. It should be noted that, pursuant to regulation, school boards cannot use capital grants for operational purposes; however, they can spend operating grants on capital.
In Ontario, not unlike some English-language school boards, French-language school boards have small enrolment numbers and cover large geographic areas with schools located at great distances from each other. One factor that is unique to French-language school boards, however, is that they operate in a minority language setting. In its various and numerous decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly acknowledged a need for increased funding in these situations in order to achieve substantive equality, which is the norm when looking at language rights, especially in the area of education rights.26According to the Ministry, GSN funding recognizes these factors through
various grant components, and, as a result, allocations for French-language school boards have increased both proportionally and in absolute terms throughout the years.
To support this, the Ministry provided data showing that between 2002-03 and 2011-12, GSN funding for English-language school boards has increased by 44% whereas, during this same period, funding for French-language school boards has grown by 74%.27 As indicated previously, a decrease of enrolment in the English-language system and an increase in enrolment in the French-language system are certainly factors that explain additional funding for French-language boards, but a decline of 6% on the English side and a growth of 3% on the French side28 show that other factors are obviously at play.
The Ministry also reported that the provincial average per-pupil funding in 2002-03 was $7,188 and is projected to be $11,163 in 2011-12 — an increase of $3,975 (55%) — and that average per-pupil funding for French-language boards has been higher than for English-language school boards. Whereas, in 2002-03, the average per-pupil funding for French-language school boards was 27% higher than the funding for English-language school boards, in 2011-12, it is projected that French-language school boards will receive, on average, $4,353 (40%) more funds per student than English-language school boards.29 However, it should be noted that the additional funding per student exists to recognise differences in the circumstances of French-language school boards (e.g. vast territories covered by certain boards with a large number of small schools, regional schools, and high transportation costs due to a majority of students travelling by school bus).
The Ministry indicated that there are a few grant components with the GSN that provide additional funding to French-language school boards and not to English-language school boards, as shown by Ministry data and the Regulation on Grants for Student Needs.
30 Furthermore, the Ministry stated that these components result in overall and per-pupil funding that is both proportionally and absolutely higher for French-language school boards.
(C) Capital funding in support of French-language schools When determining capital funding grants for school boards, the Ministry requests that boards submit their long-term plans for capital priorities related to facility condition, accommodation pressures, consolidation and program needs.
School boards are solely responsible for determining their capital priorities. They undertake long-term capital planning that takes into account enrolment forecasts, accommodations and accommodation needs in different communities. Communities have an opportunity to provide feedback regarding the capital plan at board meetings.
According to the Ministry, boards do not necessarily rank all planned capital projects. However, they are responsible for weighing the relative importance and relative urgency of different accommodation needs. While boards use their capital plans when deciding how to allocate their own capital funding and when applying for Ministry funding, certain factors can cause boards to change their priorities. Theses factors include one project being ready to proceed before another because of, for example (i) the availability of a site, (ii) the need to undertake an accommodation review process, (iii) a change in the condition of a school, or, (iv) a Ministry funding program. Board priorities are one factor used by the Ministry to determine capital grants. Another factor is the priority that the Ministry assigns to different projects based on its funding programs.
Ministry funding programs are often aimed at specific kinds of accommodation needs and have specific criteria attached. For example, French Capital Transition program criteria included a large number of underserved rights holders or the lack of a French-language learning environment. The Prohibitiveto-Repair program criteria included very high renewal needs. The Growth Schools program criteria included a planned school having an average utilization of 80% or greater over a 10-year period as of the second year of the operation of a school. As a result of Ministry program criteria, boards may make adjustment to their capital plan or capital priorities. Similarly, the Ministry may choose to fund a priority lower on the list if it is a better match for Ministry criteria for a particular program than a higher priority item. When it comes to capital funding specifically aimed at French-language education, the Ministry mentioned that, in 2003-04, funding for new pupil places was provided for boards that had no schools in specific parts of their jurisdictions or to address capital transitional issues for school boards that had enrolment pressures in areas that did not have permanent facilities. Some boards had pupils in parts of their jurisdictions but no nearby schools. This resulted in parents having to choose between bussing their children many kilometres to a distant school or sending their children to a nearby school belonging to a different board. Meanwhile, the pre-2006 French Capital Transitional funding program mainly benefited French-language school boards to serve right holders.
Funding for new pupil places (before 2006) has been increased for boards in these circumstances and was funded in the same manner as other allocations for new pupil places. This funding was provided to school boards over a period of 25 years.
In 2006-07, additional funding to address capital needs in French-language boards was made available to support the construction or acquisition of school space in areas of need for French-language boards with accommodation pressures. This four-year program addressed the accommodation needs of French-language school boards not funded through other Ministry capital initiatives. This program provided French-language school boards with $250 million between 2006-07 and 2009-10 under the French Capital Transitional Funding component of the Grant for New Pupil Places to build 30 new schools across the province.
The funding criteria were that all French capital transitional funding needs had to be based on information contained in the French-language boards’ long-term capital plans. Needs were evaluated based on the business case outlined in the plans submitted to the Ministry. These business cases had to include the following: (i) a 10-year sustainable enrolment projection in the area of the proposed projects, and (ii) an assessment of available space in the area, within the board and within coterminous boards.
Starting in 2011, the Ministry confirmed an overall allocation of up to $600 million over three years for the province’s 72 school boards and their capital projects. The funding will be allocated to boards based on a number of criteria, including (i) the timing and readiness of proposed projects, (ii) the number of students without suitable accommodations or housed in portables or holding schools, (iii) the number of students in schools in poor condition, (iv) the distance from a planned school/addition to either the existing holding schools or the existing students needing accommodation, (v) facility condition and/or magnitude of renewal needs, (vi) joint school and/or partnership opportunities, (vii) appropriateness, and (viii) cost and viability of the proposed solution. French-language school boards are eligible for this funding to expand, acquire or build schools in areas of growing enrolment to replace schools in poor condition, or to consolidate schools. The Ministry also indicated that, out of the $600 million, $45 million are dedicated to programs aimed at expanding access to French-language education for rights holders who are not currently served by French-language education. Criteria used to allocate this funding includes the number of rights holders, the distance to the nearest French-language schools, the appropriateness, cost and viability of the proposed solution and joint school and/or partnership opportunities.
The four district school boards that operate within the City of Toronto have submitted 32 capital priority projects worth $333.3 million to be realized within city limits, as follows:
o Toronto District School Board – 12 projects / $155.8 million
o Toronto Catholic District School Board – 11 projects / $79.5 million
o Conseil scolaire Viamonde – 7 projects / $74.7 million
o Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud – 2 projects / $23.5 million
It is important to note that both French-language school boards have capital priorities outside the City of Toronto. Including these projects, total requests are as follows:
o Conseil scolaire Viamonde – 20 projects / $188.5 million
o Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud – 20 projects / $236.5 million
This shows that French-language school boards operating in South-Central Ontario have, overall, requested $425 million or 70% of the capital funding available for the next 3 years for the province’s 72 school boards. In light of the Ministry’s mandate to provide equitable funding to all school boards, difficult choices will have to be made.
The Ministry confirmed that it takes into account board priorities when determining capital funding and that its funding is also based on programs aimed at specific kinds of accommodation needs. The Ministry has also confirmed that funds have been and are provided to address capital transitional issues caused by enrolment pressures, such as those that exist in the Frenchlanguage system, and that it recently allocated significant amounts specifically for French-language education capital projects.
On June 15, 2011, the Ministry of Education announced a Capital Priorities grant of $650 million for 43 new schools and 30 addition/retrofit projects across the province. As part of this announcement, the French-language school boards received over $95 million which represents approximately 15% of the announced capital funding.
In Toronto, the Conseil scolaire Viamonde received funding confirmation for the École élémentaire publique Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau/High Park solution and for half of the costs of the West Toronto secondary solution for an approximate value of over $18 million. The CSDC Centre-Sud received funding to address enrolment pressure at their École
élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marguerite-d’Youville in Etobicoke and at the École élémentaire catholique Georges-Étienne-Cartier in Toronto’s Beach district for an approximate value of over $9 million. These approvals represent over $27 million of funding on a total $99 million, or approximately 27% of the announced capital funding for all four school boards operating in the City of Toronto.
It should be noted that the French-language Capital Transitional analysis has not yet been completed. Capital announcements aiming at better serving French-language rights-holders are expected to be made by the end of the summer of 2011.
(D) Operational funding in support of French-language education
The Ministry informed the Commissioner’s Office that, in addition to providing capital funding for schools and general operational funding, it is dedicated to supporting access to French-language primary and secondary education and the broader objectives of the French-language sector (e.g. questions of retention, recruitment, assimilation, etc.).
For example, in 2004, the Ministry launched the “Politique d’aménagement linguistique” (PAL), a specialised policy for the French-language education sector. The PAL has three expected provincial outcomes: (i) for students, increased capacity to acquire oral communication skills to maximize learning and identity building, (ii) for school staff, increased capacity to work in a minority setting to support the academic learning and identity building of every student, and (iii) for school boards, increased capacity to maintain and increase the student population to contribute to the vitality of French-language schools and the Francophone community. The Ministry also provides annual funding for a PAL leader position at the superintendent level in each French-language school board. The Commissioner mentioned this initiative as an exemplary practice in his first annual report (2007-2008).31In recent years, other policies and initiatives that fall under PAL’s broad umbrella have been developed and implemented, namely:
Policy and Program Memorandum No. 148, Policies Governing Admission to French-Language Schools in Ontario, which requested that French-language school boards redesign and streamline their admission committee processes by January 15, 2010 to fast-track requests from (i) French-speaking immigrants, (ii) children whose grandparents were French-language rights holders, and (iii) immigrant children whose parents’ mother tongue is neither French nor English;
Policy Statement and Guidelines on Admission, Welcoming, and Support of Students in French-Language Schools in Ontario, which provides a framework for developing a modern French-speaking community within an intercultural context since French-language schools now admit many new immigrants and students who speak little or no French.
A document entitled “Une approche culturelle de l’enseignement pour l’appropriation de la culture dans les écoles de langue française de l’Ontario,” which provides the framework and tools to integrate French-language culture in teaching practices in French-language schools to support the teaching of the curriculum and student identity building.
A document entitled “Profil d’enseignement et de leadership pour le personnel des écoles de langue française de l’Ontario,” which establish the specific knowledge, competencies and skills necessary to teach or work effectively in a minority setting.
The program for French-language schools includes the following unique features:
Strategies for promoting the learning of French in connection with the curriculum’s overall expectations, with an emphasis on oral communication;
The French-language curriculum for the Canadian and World Studies policy document (“Études canadiennes et mondiales”), which features two courses on “French-speaking Ontario” not offered in the English-language curriculum;
Actualisation linguistique en français (ALF), which is a curriculum designed to teach French and Francophone culture to children for whom French is a second or additional language and is rooted in a broader strategy to help those students reach high levels of academic success in French-language schools;
The Programme d’appui aux nouveaux arrivants (PANA) curriculum, which supports new immigrant students who may be underschooled, whose French may not be a classic” form of the language, who need support to adapt to their new environment, and who need to improve basic skills in order to integrate into regular classes as soon as possible; and
Animation culturelle activities at the school, board, regional and provincial levels. Specialised supports are provided through French-language education partners, in particular the Centre franco-ontarien de ressources pédagogiques (CFORP), the Centre canadien de leadership en évaluation (CLÉ) and TFO. For instance: SOSdevoirs is a French-language tutoring service that helps students in Frenchlanguage schools from grades 1 to 12 with their homework. Service is available by telephone, email and through a web-based chat board from 3:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday. TFO provides technical support for SOSdevoirs. For its part, the CFORP (Centre franco-ontarien de ressources pédagogiques)manages Formation professionnelle du personnel enseignant, known as FARE, whereby French-language education experts across the province provide professional development sessions for teachers. These are specially designed to support teaching of the curriculum as well as implementation of any new Ministry initiatives.
Ontario has also received funding from the federal government since 1983 to support the additional costs incurred for the delivery of minority-language education under the terms of the Canada-Ontario Agreement on MinorityLanguage and Second Language Instruction, which is a cost-sharing agreement that includes a multi-year provincial action plan. Recent initiatives funded by the Canada-Ontario Agreement include:
$5 million anually, since 2008, for capital projects related to the construction of daycare facilities that will be housed in French-language schools; and
the establishment and ongoing expansion of the Consortium d’apprentissage virtuel de langue française de l’Ontario, which is a partnership of the province’s 12 French-language school boards. The Consortium, which is part of the province’s e-Learning Strategy, offers French-language online courses, training and online guidance services.
(E) Potential barriers and challenges to accessing surplus properties in Ontario and, more specifically, in the Greater Toronto Area When looking at expanding their facilities, schools boards can either build new schools or acquire existing surplus facilities that meet their needs.
When a school board wishes to sell or lease a school property, the board must pass a motion declaring the property surplus to its needs prior to circulating the property. The school board is required to follow the terms of Ontario Regulation 444/98 – Disposition of Surplus Real Property,32 unless there are preceding legal covenants on the land or building in question. Under the regulation, the board is required to offer the property to the public bodies listed by order of priority in the Regulation (other school boards, colleges and universities, municipalities, the province, the federal government) and to provide the parties with 90 days to respond prior to offering the property to other entities.
Presently, pursuant to this regulation, school boards have the authority to determine what properties or portions of properties are surplus as well as the authority to sell, lease or purchase property. Boards are solely responsible for selling or leasing within this regulatory framework. They are also responsible for selecting sites and negotiating legal agreements. Unfortunately, this process is far from transparent for the public. Furthermore, the size of sites varies widely across the province depending on location. Some operating school sites are as small as an acre. And there may be legitimate reasons for a school board to sever a site prior to selling, particularly if the site is large. However, some school boards are motivated by financial gain and will have no qualms about severing a site in a way that makes it unsuitable for school purposes and selling it for commercial purposes. The Ministry has, at the present time, no legal authority to ntervene in these matters, but it does play a limited role by notifying a selling or leasing board that they have met the regulatory requirements prior to circulating a property on the open market.
The Ministry also plays an indirect role. The Ministry may provide funding to a board to purchase a site. This funding approval may have been provided in advance of a site being circulated based on a need in a particular community. Alternatively, the funding approval may be provided in response to the board’s interest in purchasing a specific site. When providing funding, the Ministry evaluates the request within the context of the available capital program funding and the urgency and importance of the need to be addressed.
In addition, boards are to request and receive an Approval to Proceed for purchases, where the Ministry evaluates whether the board has the financial capacity to make the purchase. This Approval to Proceed requirement applies to most capital projects. The Approval to Proceed is not a regulatory or legislative requirement, but it was introduced in order to ensure that boards do not create capital deficits and debt obligations that they cannot address or meet. The Ministry indicated that it does not have the legal authority to require boards to sell an entire site or to set a minimum or maximum site size requirement. The Ministry told the Commissioner’s Office that, more broadly, it supports cooperative planning between school boards so that the surplus schools of one board may be used to address the needs of another board. The Ministry may encourage solutions for particular capital needs that could involve a closed or surplus property of another board. In the same vein, the Ministry works closely with the four Toronto school boards to discuss accommodation needs and encourage solutions. From the Commissioner’s Office perspective, these actions are not readily seen on the ground, especially in the Greater
Toronto Area, where the need for more French-language schools is painfully obvious.
Similarly, the Ministry indicated that it does not have the legal authority to require boards to deem a property surplus or to sell a surplus school. Boards may wish to retain closed schools or other property not currently used by the board to address a potential future need. In addition, a board’s accommodation needs or the proposed solution to those needs may change after a property has been declared surplus or after it has been circulated.
School boards use the proceeds of disposition to undertake their own capital priority projects. All boards in the province have capital priority projects related to fixing or rebuilding old schools, consolidating schools, enhancing program delivery, accommodating enrolment pressures or growth, or accommodating rights holders. If a board can fund a project through proceeds of disposition, then the Ministry does not have to provide funding for the project. The Commissioner’s Office notes that the availability and extent of government funding varies based on the government’s priorities and financial situation. Although selling a site can be a time-consuming and costly process, the ability to generate revenue may act as an incentive to do so. According to the Ministry, there are benefits to enabling boards to sell properties for revenue. Boards reinvest the funds in their own schools. Having to purchase sites also imposes a discipline on purchasing boards by requiring them to commit their own funding or request funding for the project from the Ministry, possibly at the expense of another project. As a result, planned purchases are carefully considered. The Ministry reports it has been working with school boards to dispose of surplus properties. Its position is that board capital assets should be utilized for the benefit of current and future students. Selling surplus properties reduces costs and generates funding to renew schools, build additions or build or purchase new schools. As well, assets not needed by one board may be needed by other publicly funded school boards or other public partners. The Ministry encourages school boards to share information about surplus properties in order to assist coterminous boards and other partners in making timely decisions. In May 2011, in a memorandum to school boards, the Ministry reiterated its position on surplus properties.
In the past, there were initiatives that supported the transfer of properties between boards at no cost. These initiatives were primarily focused on recognizing the transfer of students when new boards were created or when funding for the Catholic system was extended. The transfer took the form of long-term leases or transfers of ownership.
In addition, there was a time between 1998 and 2004-05 when boards could offer properties to other school boards at no cost. They were compensated for the properties by removing the schools’ New Pupil Places capacity which generated additional capital grants for the board. This practice was ended on February 17, 2005. The final year of the New Pupil Places grant was 2009-10. Not all boards were eligible for New Pupil Places funding, which was generally focused on school boards with more students than schools, so not all boards would choose to sell at no cost.
As noted previously, the sale of assets is governed by Ontario Regulation 444/98, which sets the price for a board selling to other school boards at the lesser of fair market value or a price determined by the capacity or size of the school. The ministry informed the Commissioner’s Office that it has been reviewing Ontario Regulation 444/98 and contemplating certain changes. Based on recommendations from the School Board Staff Working Group on Regulation 444/98, the Ministry is currently looking into modifying or clarifying the regulation.
Regulation 444/98 has numerous flaws that impede the fair exchange of fixed assets. School boards have control when, in fact, it should be the Ministry of Education, as an impartial party whose vision is solely centered on not-forprofit education. Currently, the Ministry has the authority to amend Ontario Regulation 444/98 in a manner that is consistent with the Education Act and does not grant the Minister additional powers. In other words, currently, the Regulation cannot be amended to give the Minister the authority to direct boards to sell sites, or to sell sites of a particular size.
The Ministry explained that sometimes, certain factors deter boards from putting surplus sites up for sale, including: (i) a desire to hold properties for future needs, whether the needs assessment is realistic or not, (ii) concern about supporting other school boards/competitors by providing school sites, (iii) a perceived lack of benefit, as proceeds of disposition may not compensate for the opportunity cost of losing the site or provide enough revenue to undertake a worthwhile capital project, (iv) community opposition to the sale due to concern about the future use of the site, (v) concern about municipal opposition to the sale of a property, (vi) preference to retain facilities for community use, and (vii) easy availability of tenants to occupy buildings that aren’t needed for educational purposes in the short term. In addition, there may be other factors that prevent boards from selling to other boards, including: (i) a problem of timing between when a site is needed by one board and when the site is available, (ii) the surplus site may not meet another board’s needs, due to location, size or functionality, (iii) the difficulty of finding sites in areas of growth, (iv) uncertainty about whether a surplus site will be sold, leading a coterminous board to seek other options, (v) reluctance to sell to a school board at less than fair market value, and (vi) limited capital funding, where the board may have identified or received funding for other capital priorities and does not have the funding to purchase another site. None of these reasons address the fact that there is a shortage of Frenchlanguage schools, specifically in the Greater Toronto Area. Furthermore, renchlanguage school boards are far too often placed in a situation where they cannot acquire new facilities because of reasons previously outlined. This has a direct impact on the Francophone community and leaves the door wide open for assimilation.
Given the lack of transparency in the sale of surplus school properties; and
Given the many barriers to a fair flow of surplus school properties posed by self-interest;
The Commissioner recommends that all relevant legislation and regulation, namely Ontario Regulation 444/98, Disposition of Surplus Real Property, be amended so that:
a) The Ministry of Education has the authority to direct school boards to sell unused or surplus sites in particular circumstances;
b) There are limits to how long a property can be held by school boards and remain unused;
c) There are limits to how long an offer to acquire a property is valid before a financial transaction takes place;
d) Severed properties could only be offered to and purchased by school boards for education purposes unless an exception was obtained from the Minister, only under particular circumstances;
e) Lease costs to coterminous school boards reflect an “at cost” approach so that school boards do not profit from leasing to each other;
f) The regulation better supports more effective and efficient transactions between school boards;
g) The Ministry of Education reports publicly, on a regular basis, on the disposition of surplus real property.
Furthermore, the Commissioner believes that it would be beneficial for Frenchlanguage school boards to join forces in capital planning, while bearing in mind the distinct aspects of the Catholic and public boards’ respective mandates and constitutional rights. This would enable them to fully use available resources and increase the availability of programs, activities and services, particularly in areas where the number of rights holders may be small. Certain initiatives of this type are already underway and could serve as examples. These cooperative projects have helped French-language school boards and colleges as well as bilingual universities meet the needs of their students more effectively.33The Commissioner recognizes that the Ministry has put considerable effort into brokering an agreement between the two Toronto French-language boards to provide additional school facilities for French-language students in Toronto. For example, on May 16, 2011 the Minister sent a letter to the two Toronto Frenchlanguage boards highlighting a possible solution for the boards to consider:
That the CSDC Centre-Sud acquire EssexWestPublic School from the TDSB to replace École élémentaire Sacré-Coeur. The Ministry would provide funding for the renovation of the school as well as separation from the Essex East facility that the TDSB is retaining. To enable this to occur, Viamonde would need to remove the offer that they have made for this property;
That the Ministry would provide funding to Viamonde to either expand its existing École élémentaire Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau or provide funding for an alternative site in the HighPark area; and That Viamonde and CSDC Centre-Sud would jointly purchase West Toronto Collegiate Institute from the TDSB in order to operate a joint high school in this facility. The Ministry has previously provided funding approval to CSDC Centre-Sud for a high school in the western section of the City of Toronto and would provide 50% of the acquisition and renovation costs for Viamonde. The Ministry is committed to formally reviewing enrolment at the West Toronto site after 4 years of operation to ascertain whether additional space or a new facility is warranted.
In another example, the Public Asset Working Group was established in May 2009. The membership includes staff from the four Toronto school boards, the Toronto Lands Corporation (the real estate arm of the Toronto District School Board), the City of Toronto and the Ministry. The working group’s purpose is to explore opportunities for cooperation and to improve the use of public assets in Toronto.
These initiatives from the Ministry, however, do not immediately address the shortage of French-language schools, especially from Grade 9 and up, in the eastern part of the City of Toronto.
The Commissioner recommends that, in order to support collaborative projects by French-language school boards, the Ministry (i) explore the possibility of providing incentives for joint capital projects between school boards, and (ii) prepare a conceptual and administrative framework for the planning and implementing of such projects.34
Access to French-language education in minority settings is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, entrenched in the Constitution. This guarantee has two purposes: to provide a way to preserve and promote the French-language and Francophone culture; and to protect the French minority from assimilation by fully recognizing French as an official language of Canada. The vast majority of right holders’ children come from exogamous families where the Francophone parent already has not only to convince his or her children of the value of French-language education (especially after Grade 9), but often also has to convince the other parent. Often, parents will think that being educated in French at the elementary level suffices to ensure French skills for life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Secondary education plays a vital role in not only solidifying language skills but also in developing cultural identity. When there are no French-language schools close by and there are much easier and more diverse options within the English-language system, it is hard to justify to a child the need for him or her to commute many hours in an urban situation. In Ontario, primary and secondary education comes under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and, therefore, it behoves the Ministry to protect Ontarian’s right to French-language education. To do so, the Ministry must do everything in its power to facilitate access to French education and to influence the most important factor to this access: the proximity to French-language schools.
*APPENDIX (to come soon)