Tag Archives: Ministry of Education

A contrarian view of the University of Guelph’s economic impact on our city

By Gerry Barker

June 18, 2018

Now let’s state clearly that the U of G is an important presence in the life of our city.

An economic impact study, commissioned by the university, reports a staff of some 12,000 employees. It appears to be the largest employer in town with 30,000 students located in three campuses – Guelph, the main campus, with an estimated 21,000 students. The remaining students are located in Toronto and Ridgetown.

The accounting firm KPMG produced the study revealing that $1.6 billion was injected into the Guelph regional economy. Presumably this contribution was spread through the three campuses of the university on a prorate basis.

The report does not break out the benefit specifically to the City of Guelph.

The first question one should ask is why is the university paying mega bucks attempting to prove its contribution to the economy of our city?

It reports that the students contribute some $370 million each year, chiefly within eight months with the greater majority attend the Guelph campus. The money is spent on living expenses and the study claims their presence employs some 5,000 local jobs. Again it is unclear if this include police, fire and EMS; transit workers; waste management personnel; city administration staff and public operations employees. Not counting the emergency services employees the city staff is composed of 2,200 Full-time Equivalent Employee (FTE) workers.

Without this support of Guelph taxpayers and city services, the University could not function.

The citizens of Guelph pay all their staff salaries and benefits through property taxes and user fees. Some 80 per cent of those costs are from the collection of property taxes.

Presuming the U of G is the largest landowner in the city, with an estimated 600 acres leased to a variety of commercial businesses, office enterprises and residential, what is its contribution to the city property tax budget?

Using the number of students in the KPMG study, the university’s obligation paying property taxes is a special system introduced in 1987 that permits a “bed tax” of $75 per student in lieu of properties based on assessment. Unlike us whose property taxes are reset annually based on council’s budget and adjustments in assessments.

This “bed tax” rate has not changed since introduced 31 years ago. I won’t ask the embarrassing questions about inflation, that affects all city citizens.

Based on a student population of 21,000, the University of Guelph pays $1,575,000 a year in lieu of property taxes based on the number of students.

Let’s compare this with what citizens pay for services

Using an estimated average tax bill of $6,000 times 50,000 on the city tax bill register that includes industrial and commercial properties; the city is receiving some $300,000,000 in property taxes.

But here’s the kicker. That estimate has grown every year since 2007 by some 3.5 per cent exponentially. When the residential industrial ratio is factored (84 per cent residential versus 16 per industrial), the residential property owners are subsidizing, by far, the tiny university’s property tax obligation.

The university enjoys the city services provided by the city with not having the “bed tax” indexed for 31 years.

Of course it’s not fair. And who really pays that “bed tax?” It’s the students seeing it rolled into their tuition costs.

Now this same $75 per student in lieu of property tax is applicable to every university and community college in Ontario.

It is almost impossible to calculate or comprehend how the residents in all those communities throughout the province are caught in this totally unfair situation.

It’s easy to calculate is the cost to Guelph property owners that eclipses the paltry property tax contribution of the biggest landowner in the city.

While the university blows its horn about is monetary contribution to the city and surrounding area, it conveniently leaves out the costs of running a city of 131,000 with services supplied 365 days a year such as water, waste management, emergency services, electricity, pubic transit, excellent hospitals and social services.

It has to be a bargain when all you have to pay for it is $1,575,000.

In fact, with all that cash coming in from leased lands and other enterprises, three years ago it was reported some $30 million underfunded the university staff pensions fund

I didn’t read about these items in this glossy report.

Okay, the old arguments will surface about how important the relationship exists between Town and Gown. But at what price?

A property tax deal that was not even indexed for inflation for 31 years when the city grew, costs escalated and there was increased demand for basic services.

And the University also grew during that same period but is still paying the same property tax as it did 31 years ago.

It should not be forgotten that our provincial income and sales taxes subsidize the post secondary institutions.

How much does the provincial government expect the citizen in those cities and towns to subsidize the post secondary institutions through their property taxes?

The University of Guelph has a unique advantage over most other post secondary institutions. As a former Agriculture and Vetrenary College, it owned acres of land at a time when Guelph was a small town more than 65 years ago.

In Guelph, this fixed, unfair property tax subsidy grows exponentially every year on the backs of the municipal property owners.

 

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 22, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* The city of Guelph according to Chairman Piper

*   Some Adult truths to tickle your fancy

* The city reserve funds are on life support

* Life aboard Liz Sandals’ submarine

 

Leanne Piper bares herself as a Farbridge loyalist

Coun. Leanne Piper has a bagful of opinions and has become the defacto leader of the elected Farbridge Gang 0f Seven (FGOS) who currently dominate city council. It is a group dedicated to carry on the Farbridge agenda that more than 48 per cent of electors rejected last October.

Here we are a year later, and the bloc voting of FGOS is paralyzing the people’s business. They include: Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Phil Allt and James Gordon, the godfather of the Farbridge agenda.

The remaining councillors include Mayor Cam Guthrie, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings and Mark MacKinnon.

Leanne Piper posted a message June 3, 2014 with the heading, “Mayor Karen Farbridge Recognized for Leadership.”

Piper went on to say that “we don’t recognize how well regarded our city and our Mayor are until we leave the city limits. The Canadian Urban Institute knows that great cities are no accident. Leadership at all levels – politicians, staff and community – work together to develop and achieve great things. Congratulations, Karen!”

Now it’s appropriate for a councillor to support the mayor. But the date of this pronouncement from Chairman Piper suggests adoration and responsibility do not mix. Especially when the city has been found guilty of wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group Corp., the general contractor of the new City Hall. The cost of this decision made in September 2008 is currently $23 million. That’s above the original project cost of $44 million totaling $67 million plus HST.

The city set aside no funds in the event it lost the lawsuit initiated by Urbacon. There was no admission of responsibility by neither Mayor Farbridge nor any of her majority of supporters including Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, and Mike Salisbury. These councillors are part of the FGOS dominating city council today.

The Farbridge legacy is a hangover of mismanagement of personal environmental projects, ego, and lack of financial control of public funds. It has left the city with a multi-million dollar shortfall in reserve funds, critical condition of our aging infrastructure and a dysfunctional staff.

Yes Leanne, you are to be congratulated for being a key player in creating the irresponsible actions of a Farbridge-led council gone wild.

It will take years to return Guelph into a fiscal condition to repair the handiwork of your leader.

Time for a rethink, Leanne.

*             *             *            *

Some adult truths to tickle your fancy

            * Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

* Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

* There is great need for a sarcasm font.

* Was learning cursive really necessary?

* Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

* Bad decisions make good stories.

* I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when    they call.

* I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more     kisses begin with Molson Export than Kay.

* I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

* How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

* I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front.

* The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in hockey in 1874 and the first helmet in hockey was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

By Anonymous

*            *            *            *

Whatever happened to all those reserve funds?

The city hired a consultant group from Hamilton to conduct an operations review. BMA reported that the city’s reserve funds, except the water reserve, were in a “red flag cautionary” mode.

What does this mean to the average citizen? Not much really except that it will drive taxes and fees up to replenish the under-funded reserves.

There are three reserves that were raided by the former administration to pay the $8.96 million settlement costs to Urbacon Buildings Group Corp as a result of losing a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

There was a recent report that the reserves’ shortfall was due in part because of the Urbacon settlement. However in the past eight years of the Far bridge administration, the reserves were often used to provide internal capital to cover mistakes, cost overruns, pet projects, and a number of other issues.

In short, the administration used the reserves as an ATM to conduct the city business; spending money outside the budget.

They did it because staff had the backing of the leadership, both elected and senior staff. In eight years, the city staff has been stocked with Friends of Farbridge (FOFS) and senior staff. Many of these employees do not live in Guelph. Yet they are making decisions that affect not only the tax and user fees rates but have done it with immunity.

One of the problems that got us into this mess was the lack of a Chief Financial Officer who could provide the necessary checks and balances required in a $500 million corporation.

The Farbridge Gang of Seven is still blocking necessary reforms to restore fiscal responsibility to the city.

*            *            *            *

Liz Sandals is in her submarine as the system crumbles

It’s hard to imagine why Liz Sandals is still Minister of Education. While the Ontario education system is in tatters, Liz submerges beneath the ocean of discontent.

Her public comments reveal a Minister without common sense, respect for the students, the parents and the taxpayers.

Some classics:

When questioned by reporters following the Globe and Mail revealing the secret $2.5 million pay off to three teacher unions to cover extra negotiating costs, she said it was “nothing about anything.”

When asked if the unions supplied receipts to back up the payments, Sandals replied that it wasn’t necessary because she was familiar with the added costs. She said, “ you don’t have to see every bill when you’re doing an estimate of costs.”

Premier Wynne later jumped in and said the unions had to supply receipts for fear that the Sandals statement would cause a wave of expense account manipulations when receipts were not required.

The Minister refused to say how much the government spent on its own negotiating costs.

Under her leadership, Sandals has caused major disruption in the everyday operations of Ontario’s Schools. It has been going on for 18 months and still going on as unions remain engaged in work to rule, obstructing the normal operations of thousands of Ontario Schools.

Even the principals of those schools are powerless to properly operate the institutions that are responsible for educating future generations. Union-ordered cancelled field trips, report cards, extracurricular activities and only allow parent consultations if they feel like it.

The teacher unions have to step back and let the process continue as it should without the cheesy, obstructionism that is out of control. It’s that way because the Wynne government allowed it to happen. The convoluted “new” two-tiered system of negotiating with the union and the school boards has been an unmitigated disaster.

And next year, the negotiating process starts all over again.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about responsibility to keep labour peace and supply our children with a quality and productive education.

Time to say goodbye Liz. With you in charge nothing will change.

 

 

 

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Sandals admits the Liberals have been bribing teacher unions since 2003

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 23, 2015

The second day of the teacher union payoffs has escalated to $2.5 million paid to three teacher unions to settle contracts. Wednesday this week, a 42-page secret document detailing the payout to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), was obtained by the Globe and Mail.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, MPP Guelph, admitted during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday that this year, three teacher unions were paid bonuses, bribes or adjustment because the period of negotiations was lengthy and costly to the unions.

The Minister admitted yesterday that the unions did not submit any receipts or records of the money they spent in the lengthy negotiation time to justify the $1 million payouts to cover their costs.

It brings back memories of the Calgary consultants hired to the E-Health project who charged $25 for afternoon tea while in Toronto plus frequent first class flights between Calgary and Toronto.

The Minister said the union payments were made because the government changed the bargaining system and the process of adapting to the new system was costly to the unions.

Now it appears the taxpayers are paying the money thanks to the decision by the Minister of Education who had to sign off the payments.

But one teacher’s union, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), is still trying to settle a new contract after more than a year of negotiating and have not been offered any payment for extended negotiation costs.

Furthermore, they will refuse any offer to reimburse the union for “negotiation costs,” according to ETFO president Sam Hammond.

This leaves the spectre of the entire unionized public sector workers possibly expecting the same million dollar cheque book treatment in the future when they negotiate new contracts.

Ms. Sandals, while admitting the practice of bogus payments for signing has been going since the Liberals took power in 2003, refused to say how much public money has been spent to settle contract negotiations.

The Minister denied that the payments were a bribe to settle the teacher negotiations. Often perception of a situation is more truthful than the line the Ontario Liberals are spinning, Once again they attempt to extricate themselves from acute embarrassment.

Liz Sandals is way out of her depth as Minister of Education. Since her appointment in 2013 by her pal Kathleen Wynne, there has been ongoing turmoil among members of the various teacher and allied unions. Strikes, semi-strikes, working to rule have been the rule.

Ms. Sandals would have us believe that everything is under control except it was the government that radically changed the Teacher and School Board bargaining system that caused the marathon negotiating periods.

Why did they subsidize the unions using public money? The unions all have thousands of members who pay dues for the very purpose of negotiating new contracts.

This secret, barefaced bribe was leaked obviously by someone inside the Ministry who was as disgusted by the payouts as the general public, once the details were discovered.

Don’t expect Sandals to be replaced as Minister because Premier Kathleen Wynne lacks a conscience and besides, she needs Sandals to take the hits over the bumbling education system that is in constant disarray.

And the premior should know more about this than she is letting on.

She was Minister of Education before Liz Sandals took the job.

 

 

 

 

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Last August the Wynne Liberals bribed the High School teachers with $1 million to settle a contract

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 21, 2015

The Globe and Mail published details of a 42 page secret document that outlined how after a year of negotiating, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) received this unprecedented payout.

The document revealed the $1 million bribe was given to compensate the union for the costs of negotiating. It stated that a new provincial bargaining system caused the yearlong negotiations to drag on.

I’m not making this up.

This payment, which can only be described as bribe to settle a contract, is unprecedented and morally wrong. It was a desperation move by the provincial negotiators to avoid a continuation of the OSSTF strike actions last spring in Durham, Sudbury and Peel regions.

You will recall this summer the Premier stated there was no money for the teachers who were all without contracts. They included the OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers federation of Ontario, the Catholic High School and Elementary Teachers and the French teachers unions. Collectively, the province was facing a province-wide work stoppage by the teacher’s unions before schools re-opened after Labour Day.

The government’s excuse for the bribe lay in a new system of bargaining that, the report suggests, befuddled and prolonged negotiations with the various unions.

The fact is that the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, reached a settlement and was party to a deal that involved five various teacher’s unions. They received a 2.5 per cent pay increases plus other benefit improvements including a change in withdrawing banked sick leave funds.

She did this despite her leader saying there was no money to pay increases to the teachers.

Instead, Minister Sandals, in announcing the pay increases, used the term “net zero” meaning that the impact of the pay and benefit increases will be recovered from other programs. So far, so good.

But the secret document revealed the “net zero” money would come from a secondary program enhancement fund. It is assumed that this allocated $20 million fund seized from the program is to help students experiencing difficulty in high school and assist them to graduate.

It is also safe to assume that both the government negotiators and the OSSTF bargaining team agreed that it was okay to take the money from a student program in order to pay the teachers’ new contract increases.

This is a classic example of moral turpitude and excessive misappropriation of public funds by the Ontario government.

The cozy relationship between the 60,000 OSSTF members, and the Ontario Liberal party is dependent on the union members carrying out the Liberals political agenda, is appalling.

To add outrage to this powder keg of resentment are the other unions that also settled along the same terms as the OSSTF, except they didn’t receive the $1 million bribe. Except one, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, who almost two months into the school year, have no settlement in sight.

Maybe The Minister should offer them $1 million to offset those pesky negotiating costs like the bribe money the OSSTF received.

The problem now for the government is how do you explain this $1 million OSSTF bribe to the other unions that did settle without receiving that juicy bonus?

It would seem that the government, in this case the Minister of Education, has been painted into a corner. For Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Liz Sandals, paying off the teachers to achieve settlement is nothing new. In 2013, they restored the Dalton McGuinty teacher union contract rollbacks at a cost of $460 million.

Is there no shame in this?

They have destroyed any trust or goodwill of the other teacher unions with this asinine bribe that has oozed out of the secret vaults of the Ontario government.

Between Liz Sandals and Kathleen Wynne, they have now set the course for long-term distrust and disruption of the vital roles that our teachers play in the growth and vitalization of our Province and our children.

Do the right thing, both of you, resign.

 

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A ship of fools runs Ontario’s school system

By Gerry Barker

From the GuelphSpeaks provincial files

Posted October 6, 2015

Thousands of Ontario parents, students and education workers are caught up in a maelstrom of pity, selfishness and pettiness. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Public Workers Union (CUPE) union enforced job action tactics that remain unresolved and unrepentant.

Both unions have been without contracts for a year.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, describes the latest job action of allowing unlocked doors in Halton schools as “worrisome.” She went on to say that she was surprised that “this was a way (the union) has chosen as direction for disruption.”

Minister, this is what happens when there is a major breakdown in the collective bargaining process. Your staff has bungled any attempt to settle these job actions that only hurt the parents, and students in terms of their pre-high school preparation and the graduated learning process.

If, by some miracle, settlement is reached before October 19, federal election day, the theory that the unions are trying to embarrass the Ontario Liberal government, will be a mere footnote in history.

For the unions, this is a continuation of jacking up demands for more pay, better working conditions and contract benefits that go beyond the province’s ability to afford their demands.

The blame goes back a few years when the Liberals were running the government. Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who preceded her as Minister of Education, both arrived in the Legislature as former school trustees.

Paying off the teachers is the solution

You would think they would know a little bit about their chosen vocation, learned in the front lines of education. What they both have practised as overseers of the Ontario education system is to pay off the unions to keep the school doors open.

In 2013, Sandals rolled back the McGuinty clamp down of education worker’s contracts and paid some $463 million to mollify the unions and stop job action by the high school teachers.

This time, they settled with every teacher’s unions, giving a 2.5 per cent increase and more benefits. But the elementary teachers refused to accept the terms and have refused to perform basic work assignments including communication with the parents of their pupils.

Sandals declared that the increase in pay is “net zero.” In other words, the allocated budget would not increase because funds would be taken from other budget sources. Sandals did not identify those sources. All this was done despite the demand of the Premier that there wasn’t money to cover teacher’s demands for more money, smaller classes and benefits.

This was the financial chicanery reminiscent of the old baseball triple play, “ Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Keep the money moving around so nobody notices.

Here is what one Sachin Maharaj, Toronto teacher and PhD student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), described as the elementary teacher’s job:

“Outside the classroom, elementary teachers also have a range of other activities. This includes regularly communicating with parents, meeting with colleagues and administration, organizing school assemblies and events, planning field trips, maintaining up-to-date student records, as well as running student clubs and extracurricular activities.”

Oh, and the teachers also have to teach specific courses based on the ages of their students.

Getting 12 months pay for ten months work

But isn’t that what the job is all about? The elementary teachers have the responsibility to mould their young students’ attitudes, advance their learning abilities, and develop strong social skills. This is the prelude to being a responsible and successful member of society.

It all starts in kindergarten. Along the eight-year pathway to adulthood, the association of teachers and parents must be maintained and cooperative.

When the teacher’s unions strike, either part-time or out the door that trust disappears due to the teachers’ lack of responsibility that they stress on their students.

That’s what has happened in Ontario where the provincial education ministry charged with funding, maintaining and creating solutions, has abandoned the trust that the stakeholders believed they had.

The responsibility for this mess is shared both by government and union leadership.

The solution is growing among Ontarians that teachers are an essential service and should not be allowed to strike or conduct job action. The collective bargaining system does not work as the unions have timed their strikes to deeply affect the students as crucial times of the school year. Last spring was an example of work stoppages that affected students particularly those completing high school.

Threatening and using circumstances to force their demands on the backs of students and their parents is the lowest denominator ever reached by public service labour. The combination of a gutless provincial government and aggressive unions leaves only the innocent stakeholders at risk.

Indeed, a “ship of fools” has destroyed our trust.

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