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Half-empty schools costing TDSB millions

Parents wait for their children at a TDSB school. After struggling for years with declining enrolment, most of Ontario’s school boards – 46 out of 72 – are operating partly empty schools.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board is missing out on millions of dollars in development charges and the province is considering changing the rules to help the cash-strapped board access the funds.

A provincial bylaw dictates that school boards that are operating below capacity aren't eligible to collect Education Development Charges, the money that developers pay into the school system when they build new sites. But after struggling for years with declining enrolment, most of Ontario's school boards – 46 out of 72 – are operating partly empty schools, and can't collect badly needed dollars from developers.

The City of Toronto recently approved 7,000 new condo units, and while the Toronto Catholic District School Board will collect nearly $5.9-million from those developments, the public board will get nothing. TDSB trustees estimate that recently approved projects alone account for $50-million in lost potential income.

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Lauren Ramey, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said the ministry is reviewing complaints from trustees.

"We have heard from a number of boards who have asked us to look into their concerns regarding this issue and that is something we are willing to do," she said in an e-mail.

The Ontario government has been critical of the TDSB and trustees' reluctance to close schools operating below capacity or sell off unused green space.

The TDSB has more than 46,000 surplus spaces at the elementary level, and more than 30,000 at the secondary level (representing about 25 per cent of their capacity), according to Ms. Ramey.

Trustee Chris Glover says selling properties or land would be short-sighted.

"If we continue to sell and close schools were are going to end up with not enough space in the future," he said.

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