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Local education development charges fall short: report

'As a board that needs probably 30 new schools in the next 10 to 15 years, we’re in a serious negative position,' says trustee
Simcoe County District School Board trustees met on March 1, 2023 for their business and facilities standing committee meeting.

A consultant tasked with reviewing the development charges collected from new home builds for local schools says the fee should be about double the current rate to reflect the cost of land needed for building new schools in Simcoe County. 

During Wednesday’s (March 1) Simcoe County District School Board business and facilities standing committee meeting, trustees expressed frustration regarding education development charges (EDCs) being collected by the board not being enough to prepare for the building of new schools to keep up with growth across Simcoe County, as is the intended purpose of such charges.

The discussion came out of a presentation by Watson and Associates managing partner Jack Ammendolia, who is tasked with preparing a new EDC bylaw for the board, to be implemented by October 2023.

“How do we pay for these schools?” asked Midland/Penetanguishene/Tay/Tiny trustee Robin Talbot. “Who is paying for the provincial policy of the explosion of Simcoe County’s population? I thought (educational) development charges would pay for the entirety of school construction, but apparently, it’s only the land.”

The funding for building new schools is provided through two funding streams: educational development charges pay for the land, while capital priority funds from the province pay for the construction and building of schools.

To read more about the current state of capital priority funding for schools in Simcoe County, click here.

When a building permit is pulled for a new development in any municipality, educational development charges are collected and sent by the municipality to the school board to prepare for the building of a school to accommodate the growth that will be brought to the area by the development.

Under the current EDC bylaw through the public board which was passed on Oct. 25, 2018, EDCs were $1,311 per residential unit, and $0.35 per square foot for non-residential spaces. The rate is the same across Simcoe County, and had been at that rate since at least 2013. EDC bylaws need to be approved by the Ministry of Education before going into effect.

Ammendolia said this was due to a decision by the provincial government in 2018 to freeze EDCs. In June 2019, the province passed amending legislation allowing boards to pass new bylaws, however new EDC rates had to be phased in. As of this year, the residential rate in Simcoe County stands at $2,811 per residential unit, and $0.45 per square foot for non-residential spaces.

He noted the rate should actually be $3,592 for residential and $0.97 per square foot for non-residential if it were to keep up with actual needed costs.

“Your board hasn’t even hit what the actual rate should be,” said Ammendolia. “There’s a big discrepancy between what you are collecting and what you should be collecting.”

Innisfil trustee Donna Armstrong didn’t mince words on the topic.

“The issue of collecting funds for building schools through (education) development charges is not based on fairness,” said Armstrong. “It’s based on politics, builders and lobbyists. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee Jodi Lloyd, said that the board is not collecting nearly enough EDCs to buy the land needed to build schools in Simcoe County at the same rate the population is growing. She noted the board has sent letters to the Ministry of Education outlining their concerns on both EDCs and capital priority funding.

“We are in a shortfall position,” she said. “As a board that needs probably 30 new schools in the next 10 to 15 years, we’re in a serious negative position.”

In some cases, developers will set aside a section of land within their plans for the building of a school, although this is not necessarily mandated. Armstrong said that prior to the implementation of EDCs, developers were required to set aside land within their site plans for the purpose of building a school.

“Sometimes, that donated land would be a swampland,” said Armstrong. “There’s nothing the board can compel a developer to do.”

New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz said in many new development builds, she has seen it marketed that there will be a new school as part of that development.

“We don’t have land for a school there, or money for a school there, but these developers promise that there is going to be a school. It happens enough, and I hear about it enough, and people complain,” said Beitz.

Superintendent of Building and Facility Services Corry Van Nispen said the school board has to regularly keep up with where new developments in Simcoe County are planned to go, their size, the timing and whether or not there are phases proposed.

“We are making sure we can get in there early (in the planning process) to put our hand up to say we need something in that area,” he said.

Barrie trustee Lynn Strachan stressed that perhaps the board should be collaborating more closely with municipal partners to compel new developments to have portions of their land zoned institutional from the beginning, which would mean only schools, hospitals or churches could be built on those sites.

“We could try to do that in partnership because I think it’s to the benefit of our residents. We should work together to get new schools for our students,” she said.

Overall, Armstrong expressed frustration that the board was going through the process of completing an EDC review this year to submit to the province, when the province is holding all the cards as to what is and isn’t allowed through EDCs.

“We’re very hamstrung,” said Armstrong. “There are roadblocks from the province who have put this legislation in (place).”

Watson and Associates will be working through creating a new EDC bylaw recommendation for the public school board throughout 2023, with plans to have a study and proposal ready by September for public consultation.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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