Government neglect of deteriorating schools puts children at risk of asbestos exposure

The Sask. Party government’s refusal to fix deteriorating schools throughout the province is putting children and educators at risk of potential asbestos exposure.

Last week, the Opposition New Democrats revealed information about three of the schools the government has refused to fix. All three are listed on the province’s asbestos registry:

  • Rosthern Elementary School’s “structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure.” According to the asbestos registry, it has asbestos in tiles and pipeline fitting compound.
  • Rosthern High School’s roof is “leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse” and “drywall is falling from the ceiling in the library.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles.
  • Colonsay School has “structural damage to roof/walls of the gym.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles in the gym.

“It’s bad enough that this government expects parents to send their kids to schools with rotting roofs, holes in the walls and major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “But for this government to ignore the fact that kids may be put at risk of potential asbestos exposure because of the deterioration of school buildings is absolutely unacceptable.”

Asbestos exposure occurs when products containing asbestos deteriorate or are damaged and airborne asbestos fibres are inhaled or swallowed, which can lead to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

According to the asbestos registry, 499 Saskatchewan schools have asbestos in them. Government documents show there are at least $1.5 billion of repairs needed to our existing schools. The required repairs in Rosthern Elementary School, Rosthern High School and Colonsay School are estimated at $5.2 million, or just 0.3 per cent of the total need throughout the province. The government refuses to release details of the $1.5 billion of needed school repairs.

“With the kind of money this government has raked in over the last eight long years, we should have some of the best schools in the entire country, and that includes having well-maintained school buildings,” said Broten. “But this government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, while largely neglecting what really matters to Saskatchewan families. I’m hearing from more and more parents who are alarmed to learn about $1.5 billion of needed repairs to our schools and 499 school buildings with asbestos in them. Parents cannot understand why this government isn’t taking this seriously.”

Government says no to emergency repairs of rotting school roofs

The government claims “pre-existing conditions” as grounds to refuse to fix schools

The Sask. Party government refuses to do emergency repairs on school roofs that are “leaking, rotting, and in danger of collapse” because it deems them to be “pre-existing situations.”

Documents obtained through access-to-information laws show the government said no to emergency repairs of dangerous structural issues at multiple schools in at least one school division, Prairie Spirit, which is in the Saskatoon area.

“It is absolutely ridiculous for this government to use legalese and red tape to weasel out of fixing school roofs that are rotting and in danger of collapse, and schools that have major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “This is about the safety of children and this is about providing a good space to learn. To say no to these emergency repairs on the grounds that these are pre-existing conditions defies common sense and it says a lot about this government’s misplaced priorities.”

An internal government email notes: “Prairie Spirit has made multiple requests through the program, most of which have been denied.” The email goes on to say: “The majority of the requests have had old engineering requests that date back to as early as 2006 identifying issues that needed to be, but have not been addressed. As the policy is clear that the emergent program is for unknown, not pre-existing situations, most of the requests have been denied.” A separate letter confirms the policy, referring to the major problems in Prairie Spirit schools as “pre-existing conditions.”

Applications for emergency funding which the government denied include:

  • Rosthern High School: “Barrel roof is leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse. Drywall is falling form the ceiling in the library. Further deterioration will result in the closure of this entire wing, which houses most of the classroom space.”
  • Rosthern Elementary School: “Structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure,” and “Roof is rotting and portions are disintegrating.”
  • Colonsay School: “Structural damage to roof/wall of the gym”

The total cost of the three projects is $5.2 million. The government suggested that Prairie Spirit could perhaps use its funding from the Preventative Maintenance and Renewal Program (PMR), however Prairie Spirit received just $1.37 million through the PMR program this year for all building maintenance in the entire division.

Province-wide, the Sask. Party says it’s aware of at least $1.5 billion in school repairs that are necessary, but refuses to share the list or any details with parents or teachers. The total PMR is only $27 million, less than two per cent of the need.

“The Sask. Party government has had record revenues for eight years now – and this year it plans to spend more than any year in the province’s history – but it can’t even fix our school roofs that are rotting and disintegrating? It makes no sense,” said Broten. “No wonder more and more Saskatchewan people are starting to ask where all the money has gone. This government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, instead of investing in what matters most to Saskatchewan people – better schools, better hospitals, better seniors care, and better roads. Saskatchewan families deserve so much better.”

Read the documents accessed via Freedom of Information laws.

Sask. Party failing students, new cuts in Regina schools announced

The government’s refusal to properly fund students and scrapping of the mid-year adjustment will now result in cuts to staff in Regina schools, and the NDP wants a change to the education funding formula before September to solve the problem.

The Regina Public School Board is being forced to cut $2.55 million in positions as part of its efforts to overcome a $6.1 million funding shortfall, the board said late last week. The schools will also have more Grade 1 students walk to school instead of being bussed and eliminate some noon-hour supervision. The Saskatoon-area Prairie Spirit School Division announced more than 40 job cuts a week ago, including more than 21 educational assistants, eight teacher librarians, positions in special education and more.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “We could and absolutely should have one of the strongest school systems in the country. But this government didn’t invest properly in students and classrooms. Whether it’s crumbling schools that aren’t getting any repair dollars, overcrowded classrooms and schools that can’t afford supports for students like anti-bullying programs, enough educational assistants or English as an additional language supports, it’s the students that lose when the government has misplaced spending priorities.”

The NDP is calling for immediate changes to the funding formula, to reverse its $18 million cut caused by its scrapping of the mid-year funding adjustment, and to commit that enrolment growth at mid-year will be fully funded.

The provincial government will spend more than ever before, but classrooms are being shortchanged because of the government’s misplaced priorities. Wotherspoon said more teachers and educational assistants could easily be possible by cutting government waste and pet projects. For example, he pointed out, this year the government is mandating a roll-out of the controversial John Black Lean program in education. He also pointed out that millions have already gone to P3 consultants, unsuccessful bidders and negotiators as a part of the more-expensive and lengthier P3-rent-a-school scheme. And, the province shoveled more than $120 million to consultants last year, an increase of 228 per cent.

“Making common sense decisions would save millions – millions that could be spent on more teachers, more educational assistants and addressing bullying in schools,” said Wotherspoon. “This is about giving kids the best education possible, but it’s also about giving Saskatchewan the strongest future.”

The NDP plan for education includes capping class sizes starting with early years and increasing the number of educational assistants. The NDP has also tabled an anti-bullying bill for schools that establishes each students’ right to raise bullying and cyberbullying with their school principal, their right to have a disability accommodated and the right to request and form a gender and sexuality alliance (GSA, also known as a gay straight alliance) in their school.

Don’t sign P3 schools contract, start straightforward schools build now: NDP

P3 rental schemes have worked poorly and cost more in other provinces. The NDP wants the Sask. Party to turn away from its P3 schools scheme before the contract is signed, and instead start building schools in a cost-effective and transparent way.

The NDP has previously criticized the government’s plan to use a massive, bundled P3 to have private corporations build and operate schools in Saskatchewan. Now, with the government just about to sign the contract and evidence from other jurisdictions’ bad P3 experiences piling up, the Opposition says it’s urgent that the plan changes before the province is locked in to a 30-year bad deal.

“Instead of awarding a private conglomerate from another province or country a lucrative deal to build and manage our children’s schools for the next 30 years, let’s learn from other provinces and just do this the straightforward way,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “If we decide to own and maintain our schools ourselves – as we always have – we save money, we get building immediately and our communities will get all the access to the schools they’ve always had.

“The delays have already been too long, and the consulting and bidding fees we’ve paid are already piling up. The government needs to stop its rent-a-school plan before it hands out a multi-million-dollar contract to an out-of-province and out-of-country conglomerate.”

In Nova Scotia, a Conservative government abandoned that province’s P3 schools plan after finding the new schools were costing $2 million more, each, than a straightforward build.

In Alberta, the P3 schools plan was scrapped by the previous government because it failed to be competitive enough to guarantee value. Alberta parents and school boards also found troubling community concerns with P3 schools, including groups like sports teams or children’s groups not having access to the buildings after school.

In Ontario, the Auditor General said 74 P3 projects in that province, combined, cost taxpayers an extra $8 billion.

In B.C., P3 Crown Partnerships B.C. has been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals – but, despite that, the Sask. Party government is giving it $5.6 million in consulting fees in its P3 push.

“Other provinces have gone down this road and turned back,” said Wotherspoon. “Why is the Sask. Party trying the same costly experiment?”

He added that the bundled P3 approach – hiring one massive conglomerate to build nine cookie-cutter schools on a single contract – will shut out the local construction industries.

“The value, dollar for dollar, just isn’t there in a P3,” he said. “And the value to the local economy certainly isn’t there when you have a corporation from another province or country being paid to build and operate our schools.”

Both Ontario’s Auditor General and Saskatchewan’s Provincial Auditor found that the so-called value-for-money audits being used to justify P3s are based largely on unsubstantiated assumptions. Most notably, to make the straightforward method of a provincial build look bad, it inappropriately assigns a “risk” amount five or six times greater than the amount budgeted for the P3 method.

“After a decade of resource wealth, it’s shameful that the Sask. Party hasn’t built the schools our communities need,” said Wotherspoon. “The fact is, paying to get shovels the ground now and owning and operating our schools ourselves is faster and less costly than a complex scheme of for-profit financers and management corporations.”

The winning bidder on a bundle of P3 schools awarded Monday is a massive international conglomerate from Milwaukee, Vancouver, Ontario, Saskatoon and Alberta.

Sask. Party’s P3 schools have seven non-Sask. corps sharing profits

The Sask. party awarded two massive P3 schools contracts Monday – to the same multi-national conglomerate – so seven non-Saskatchewan corporations and two Saskatchewan companies will take a profit from Saskatchewan children’s schools.

A large firm headquartered in Milwaukee will be responsible for maintenance and operations of Saskatchewan schools on two long-term contracts, likely about 30 years. P3 deals are costly complex ownership and financing schemes in which the province essentially rents its own schools from management conglomerates. In P3 deals, one or several large for-profit corporations put up the capital in exchange for a hefty profit and massive interest fees.

Corporations comprising the conglomerate, which calls itself Joint Use Mutual Partnership (JUMP), include:

  • from British Columbia, Concert Infrastructure;
  • from Ontario, Bird capital;
  • from Ontario, Bird Design-Build;
  • from Saskatoon, Wright Construction;
  • from Alberta, GEC Architecture;
  • from Saskatoon, Kindrachuk Agrey Architecture; and
  • from Milwaukee, Johnson Controls and its Canadian subsidiary offices.

“For private corporations to make a profit off operating our children’s schools on a 30-year contract, that money comes right from families in the form of more property taxes,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “And, to add insult to injury, the proponents aren’t even from Saskatchewan – the profits go directly to British Columbia, Ontario and out of country. Plus, the local construction industry is largely shut out of building our community’s schools.”

The NDP has been critical of the use of a P3 rent-to-own scheme in education, noting that it typically costs more; that local community access is restricted or made very expensive by the management company; and that the local economy, including the local construction industry, doesn’t benefit as they should from large-scale construction projects.

Education funding shortfall leads to big cuts in growing schools

Cuts in growing school division near Warman, Martensville includes 21 EAs

The Sask. Party has failed to properly fund education, and the newest outcome of its short funding is sweeping cuts being forced at the Prairie Spirit School Division.

More than 21 educational associates (EAs, also called educational assistants) will be cut for the next school year, according to a letter the school division sent to parents Wednesday. There will also be cuts to pre-school programs, early learning, special education resource staff, librarians, vice-principals and programs supporting children learning English.

The division notes that it will have to make further cuts in response to enrolment growth through the year in its fast-growing schools. That would be because the government has refused to budget for a mid-year funding adjustment to accommodate new students. It’ll also combine classes wherever it can, moving to even larger class sizes.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth. We should absolutely be seeing our schools and our students thrive with fantastic programming, smaller class sizes and the capacity to give every child the help and attention they need to be their best,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “But, this government has refused to prioritize education. So, we see cuts to programs and layoffs in critical positions.

“This government refuses to make classrooms a priority, and as a result, a generation of kids throughout the province are suffering.”

Wotherspoon said the funding shortfall is a province-wide problem. He’s heard from a number of school divisions, urban and rural, that are facing tough decisions because of budget shortfalls, and are making cuts for the coming school year.

School boards are definitely not to blame, he added. Prairie Spirit has repeatedly flagged for the Sask. Party the funding problem that is hurting students. Like other boards, it’s made administrative reductions and dipped into its long-term savings to try to spare the kids from cuts – but those options have largely been exhausted.

The NDP has called on the government to prioritize education; fund a cap on class sizes and increase the number of EAs to ensure every student gets the help and one-on-one attention they need.

Read the list of PSSD cuts here.

NDP wants school funding fix before kids go back in the fall

Band programs latest victim of Sask. Party’s short funding of students

The Opposition wants the funding for school boards repaired before the school year starts.

The NDP also says the government was wrong to cut the mid-year adjustment that funded enrolment growth, and wants money set aside for that.

“The Sask. Party has had record revenues and has been spending all of it as fast as it comes in, and then some. But, where has all the money gone? School boards and kids sure aren’t benefiting – and this government isn’t making them the priority they should be,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader and Education critic.

“School boards are being forced to make painful spending decisions. That means the classes are getting more and more crowded. There are already too few educational assistants, after the government slashed their numbers, and one-on-one attention is often not there when kids need it. And, in the case of Prairie Spirit School Division, they’ve been forced to eliminate the band program – and the Sask. Party should be absolutely ashamed of that.”

Prairie Spirit, a growing division near Saskatoon, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the funding shortfall – concerns Wotherspoon said he’s heard from other parts of the province, too. It’s a matter of priorities, he said.

“Does this government actually need to spend $120 million a year on private consultants? Does it need to spend millions to introduce the Lean fiasco we know from health care into schools? Or, could it use those millions to add some teachers, hire more educational assistants and give kids the band programs they deserve? That’s the approach I want.”

Among NDP Leader Cam Broten’s proposals for education is a cap on class sizes based on class composition, starting with early years; reinstating the role and ratio of educational assistants; and scrapping the more expensive P3 rent-a-school scheme that’s delaying the building of overdue schools. Those and more plans were laid out in an opposition bill during the spring session of the legislature, but the government refused to debate the bill, or vote on it.‎

Government attempt to excuse crumbling schools just plain wrong

Government attempt to excuse crumbling schools just plain wrong

With parents, teachers and the Opposition expressing serious concerns about run down and neglected schools, the government is patting itself on the back Friday for its 2014 education infrastructure spending – which included a $23.5 million cut.

Friday, it issued a short and vague list of school repairs undertaken in the last two years in defense of growing criticism.

“Kids and students don’t need a weak defense – they need their schools fixed,” said Opposition Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “Parents and teachers are rightfully asking, after a decade of resource wealth, why don’t we have better school buildings all over the province? Where did all that money go?

“Good schools are a priority for families – but the Sask. Party government has been spending on its own pet projects, instead, and letting schools get very run down. Putting out a media release to pat themselves on the back for the little bits of maintenance schools were able to afford, while dismissing the growing and very real problems in schools, is just wrong.”

Wotherspoon pointed to major structural problems, cracks in walls and a library floor that’s nothing more than subfloor because the moldy carpet was ripped out years ago and never replaced. Saskatchewan School Boards Association data shows that 75 per cent of all schools roofs in the province will fail by 2018. The independent provincial auditor reported in 2013 that the government was spending far too little to repair and upkeep schools – and that was before the government made its cuts this year.

The amount required to complete the much-needed repairs in schools has grown to at least $1.5 billion. But the government says the list of schools in trouble is a cabinet secret, and refuses to share it with parents and teachers.

“The list of repairs needed has grown to $1.5 billion – and that doesn’t include structural inspections on all of the older schools,” said Wotherspoon. “It’s disturbing that schools have become so run-down during such good economic times; and it’s equally disturbing that the government is hiding the list of repairs that are needed from parents and teachers. What doesn’t the Sask. Party government want parents to know?”

Teachers’ pay delay, deep cuts result of government underfunding

The government’s failure to properly fund schools has reached a tipping point in the province’s French-language school division, where the board has been forced to delay payday for teachers. The extreme measure comes on the heels of a round of deep cuts in those schools.

In a letter from the teachers’ association to its members, teachers at Conseil des Écoles Fransaskoises schools are told the board wants to delay June’s payday until the next funding deposit from the government. The request comes on the heels of $4.4 million in cuts at French-language schools – laying off teaching assistants and support workers and cutting programming.

“We have a strong economy, but the government has failed to translate that into better schools and classrooms,” said NDP Deputy Leader and education critic Trent Wotherspoon. “Cutting millions from classrooms and forcing a school board into a position where it has to delay payroll for teachers – that’s shocking, truly disturbing evidence of just how much this government is dropping the ball on the basics.

“It’s painful and unfair for students and teachers today, and a shameful way for this government to put our province’s future at risk.”

Wotherspoon said years of chronic underfunding have been exacerbated by the provincial budget, which called on teachers to do more with even less.

“Classrooms are crowded and have more students with complex needs than ever before,” said Wotherspoon. “Cutting staff and cutting supports make absolutely no sense. Why is this government willing to spend untold millions on consultants and efficiency programs like the fat Lean experiment, but not willing to properly fund the teachers, educational assistants, supplies and supports our kids need?”

Wotherspoon called on the government for immediate mid-year funding adjustments to stop the cuts in schools throughout the province – including an immediate adjustment for French-language schools.

Question Period – University of Saskatchewan Review Process

of the
Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan


(HANSARD) Published under the authority of The Hon. Dan D’Autremont Speaker

N.S. VOL. 56

NO. 55A TUESDAY, APRIL 29, 2014, 13:30

Question Period:

University of Saskatchewan Review Process

Mr. Broten: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Dr. Jim Miller, a highly respected and award-winning historian at the University of Saskatchewan, says TransformUS is the “. . . biggest disaster that’s happened to the University of Saskatchewan apart from the Great Depression in the 1930s.”

My question, Mr. Speaker, is for the Premier: does he agree with Dr. Miller that TransformUS is the biggest disaster to face the university since the Great Depression?

Click Here to see NDP Leader Cam Broten’s questions for the government about the controversial TransformUS review process taking place at the University of Saskatchewan.