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Wednesday, May 22 2024 @ 11:45 MDT

Crumbling Schools

Alberta PoliticsIt's been a while since I've written, since life has been so busy for me, but now a few moments have happened and I can put finger to keyboard once again. On my way to work today I was listening to the radio (CBC1010) I heard a representative from a company that loans money to schools for maintenance based on savings they'd find in facilities operations.

Now the whole point of this is that the Calgary Board of Education currently has an estimated $400 million maintenance deficit. This means that over the years $400 million of required maintenance has been deferred. This has resulted in a school closure and concern that other schools may have similar problems. Now this is a funding issue. In the rush to slay the debt and deficit, funding to school boards was cut severely in the '90s and has only recently been restored to the pre-cut levels. Of course inflation means that the school system in Alberta is still being funded to levels less than they were before the cuts. Since the cost of everything needed to run a school have gone up, something has had to go. That thing has, for many boards, the CBE included, is maintenance.

Small things are forgone in the interest of saving money, schools are only cleaned once or twice a week, support staff are cut back. However some larger items are also put off. Repairs to roofs, walls and windows are also put off unless gaping holes are evident. Preventative maintenance is canceled completely. All this so that Ralph and Co. could crow about how well they've slain the deficit dragon. The problem is, of course, that they've simply moved the dragon from a fiscal roost to a infrastructure roost.

To fix the problem, the CBE needs to come up with the $400 million. This company could be the answer except for two problems. First, the Alberta government only allows school boards to borrow against energy savings, not facility savings, cutting the possible money from this company by a large amount (not that $400 million in savings would be found). So not enough funds could be borrowed for maintenance. The provincial government is not likely to be kicking in any extra, since they don't think there's a problem in the first place, providing only a few million dollars a year, for the whole province, for maintenance.

The other problem is should the public school board have to borrow money from a private consulting firm that will only loan the money if it's recommended savings are implemented? What will these savings look like? Will classroom conditions suffer even more in the interest of saving money? The province has a responsibility for public education, and to provide adequate funding for this endeavor. It currently is not, as the crumbling schools shows. A province who just spent $1.4 billion giving each Albertan a cheque for $400 could easily afford to correct the infrastructure deficit of the CBE as well as the other school boards and likely hospitals and other public institutions. This isn't the responsibility of the private sector.

It really comes down to a matter of priorities. The current Alberta government is so tied up in pandering to the corporate lobby, it's forgotten the reason it exists. It no longer exists to provide services to Albertans, but to create a framework for corporations to make money. This is all evident in the way the government is acting with the so called 'Third Way' for health care and forcing school boards to look at private consulting companies to finance maintenance. The citizens of Alberta are forgotten in this equation, other than some of the billions raked in by the corporations may 'trickle down' to the rest of us.

The government needs to change its focus from corporations to the people of the province. The oil wealth isn't going to last forever (just like the boom we're pissing away yet again) and the current government focus of allowing the corporate world to piss the boom away at the expense of the taxpayer isn't going to work. It is already stealing safe schools from our children and safety in any other public building as well, since they also have the same maintenance issues, so that some corporate CEO can maximize shareholder value and get his multi-million dollar annual bonus. The people need to take their government back. It's a pity the people of Alberta have forgotten how to do that.

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