SPACE Delegation on the TDSB 2024-25 Operating Budget

On Tuesday, April 2, 2024, SPACE Coalition Co-Chair Susan Fletcher spoke to the TDSB's Finance, Budget and Enrolment Committee. In response to a significant budgetary shortfall, TDSB staff recommended a review of permit fees to ensure the fees fully recover the ancillary costs such as nonscheduled custodian services, media and technology specialists, stage crews, security officers and parking attendants. As well, the TDSB is looking to recover funds they are providing to subsidize the use of space, above and beyond what is provided through the Province's Community Use of Schools grant.

Our SPACE Coalition Co-Chair shared the following thoughts with the committee.

I am sure we all agree that community use of schools is a “good thing”. SPACE sees it as a cornerstone of healthy, vibrant neighbourhoods. But does it help school board budgets and student achievement?

The answer is yes. Research shows that community involvement programs can reduce damage-repair expense by 75%.1 And that regular participants in high quality after school programs are more likely to complete their homework, achieve higher grades, and have more positive attitudes towards school, with a greater interest in pursuing post-secondary education.2

However, if permit costs increase, nonprofits may not be able to continue offering after-school and engagement activities in schools. Balancing the budget in ways that can negatively impact student performance and vandalism repair costs seems counterproductive at best.

I also have some questions about information about community use costs outlined on page 8 of your March 19 agenda package.3

First, the ancillary costs for “nonscheduled custodian services, media and technology specialists, stage crews, security officers and parking attendants” with a total of $3.1 million. I am surprised that this issue was not found in prior years, as $3.1 million is nearly the same as the $3.6 million received to subsidize specific categories of nonprofit groups’ permits. Additionally, the report does not state whether these costs were incurred for nonprofit permits, business permits, or even filming.

I understand that the fee for a lighting tech is $200 for a minimum 4 hour call out. This is in addition to the weekday evening hourly permit fee for a small auditorium of $48 at a cost recovery level down to about $19 at the most subsidized level. For a theatre or music group that needs to rehearse weekly, this is already a high expense. An increase might put it out of reach.

I am also curious about how staff determined the expense for the ancillary items and subsidized permits. As we all know, permits were cancelled or reduced for nearly 6 months of 2019-20 (March to August), as well as much of 20-21 and some of 21-22. Which means the only full school year of permits was 22-23. Did permits resume at the same volume as pre-pandemic? Or did groups not renew their permits, possibly because they lacked volunteers to organize their activities, or participants did not return to in person activities, etc, as a result of the pandemic?

I understand from the Ministry of Education that school boards were allowed to spend their CUS funds on other priorities during shutdowns, which was a good thing! So your reporting for the relevant years might show that CUS funds were fully utilized, even though permit fee revenue was sharply reduced due to fewer permits. How did 22-23 permit volume compare to 2018-19?

I hope that answers can be provided before the Board makes decisions based on the data and costing. And definitely before the question of subsidy categories and percentages comes to the Community Use of Schools Community Advisory Committee’s review of Policy PO11.

Susan Fletcher,
Co-Chair SPACE Coalition (Saving Public Access to Community Space Everywhere)
[email protected]