TDSB’s $143 school pencil sharpener just the beginning

TDSB’s $143 school pencil sharpener just the beginning

Published on Thursday December 06, 2012

Moira Welsh/Toronto Star File Photo
The pencil sharpener that started it all: maintenance workers with the Toronto District School Board charged taxpayers $143 to install it at Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate.
Kevin Donovan
Staff Reporter, Andy Bailey

137 Comments

The high cost to perform tens of thousands of small jobs — hanging pictures, mounting bulletin boards and yes, more pencil sharpener installations — are costing the Toronto District School Board a small fortune, according to data obtained by the Star.

At one school, Emery Collegiate Institute in North York, a work crew was summoned to hang three pictures one day in March 2011, a job that took seven hours and cost $266. Eight days later, workers were once again called to the same school to “hang three pictures on the wall.” That time, workers billed for 24 hours at a cost to taxpayers of $857.

The Star’s TDSB investigation

The 293,000 work orders covering a two-year period ending this fall represent $158 million in construction and maintenance jobs done for Toronto’s 600 elementary and secondary public schools.

More: TDSB pleads for time, talks before province sends budget team

Last week, the Star asked the school board to provide an explanation for some of the more glaring costs, including the work done at Emery Collegiate. The TDSB is preparing a response, which it estimates will be done in January.

Meanwhile, reacting to an audit and information earlier unearthed by the Star, the provincial education ministry has offered to assist the TDSB in fixing the problem. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report recommends closing schools and contracting out some jobs.

There is also a police investigation underway, looking at allegations of fraud involving some former TDSB workers.

The Toronto public school board is in a cash crunch. It estimates $3 billion of work needs to be done to bring its aging schools up to an acceptable level.

About 900 workers belonging to the Maintenance and Skilled Trades Council carry out the work as part of a long-standing contract that is radically different from many other boards in Ontario, which contract out many jobs to the lowest bidders. Schools also have janitorial staff, which could do the smaller jobs that have been routinely assigned to the council workers.

Teachers have contacted the Star saying they would like to put up a shelf, a coat hook or attach a pencil sharpener but believe that they are not allowed to. “I was told flat out by my school that we are not allowed to do this work,” said one teacher, speaking on condition of anonymity because the teacher fears job repercussions for talking.

The data obtained by the Star is a mix of small jobs that appear to take too long, and big jobs that take many, many weeks. The data is raw — no conclusions are made in the data as to whether the job was done properly or on time.

When the Star first asked under the freedom of information law for the data, the school board wanted $3.6 million. When the Star pointed out that the electronic records could be extracted from their system with relative ease, the board relented and handed over the data at no cost.

Here’s a short tour of some jobs that caught our eye. The TDSB has not responded yet to questions about these charges.

 • $147.88 to cut one key at the board’s “East Education office.”

 • $167 for a job at R.H. McGregor Elementary School described as “four guys needed to move a bench.”

 • $118 to install a pencil sharpener at Vaughan Road Academy (this is cheaper than the $143 sharpener installation the Star found earlier at another school).

 • $190 to replace a broken toilet seat in the staff washroom at Kensington Community School. That price included the seat, which was $126.

 • $312 to replace two malfunctioning smoke detectors at Highfield Junior School, plus $58 for new detectors. The data indicates this important work took seven days from when job was requested to completed.

 • $810 to “remove unpleasant words on (washroom) stall” at Elkhorn Public School.

 • $1,614 (representing 49 hours for a painter) to paint a vice-principal’s office at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. Materials were $82, likely two cans of paint.

 • $2,441 to install a whiteboard on the wall at Rouge Valley Public School, plus the $127 cost of the board.

 • $2,670 to replace “burned-out bulbs in lunchroom” at H.J. Alexander Community School. That job took 70 hours, and the bulbs were an additional $337.

The data also includes big jobs, such as $21,592 labour (which works out to 745 hours) and $1,849 in materials to replace a broken water main at Hollycrest Middle School. The detail provided makes it impossible to tell if this cost is a fair one. In all cases, the Star has arrived at the number of work hours using the hourly union wage at the TDSB for each trade.

Here’s how work gets authorized: each TDSB janitor has a computer terminal in his or her office that is linked to the public school board’s work-order system. When a teacher or principal, or the janitor, decides something needs fixing or to be installed, the janitor is asked to create a work order. The janitor inputs the information into a computer terminal. At TDSB maintenance head office, a worker is assigned. Depending on the type of work, one of the 900 skilled tradespeople (electricians, carpenters, plumbers, general maintenance, etc.) with the Maintenance and Skilled Trades Council is dispatched.

The trades council, run by Jimmy Hazel, said in a recent dispatch to trustees that it agrees on-site janitorial staff should be allowed to do some of the smaller jobs.

Meanwhile, at TDSB headquarters, managers are trying to construct a system that will allow them to monitor workers. One suggestion being tossed around is to install GPS systems on trucks. This was discussed after managers discovered some workers said they were at a job site and were actually at a Tim Hortons, a bar, delivering pamphlets for a paving job using TDSB equipment or, in one case, kissing a girlfriend in a school board van.

MORE ON THESTAR.COM

TDSB workers given $253,000 in gift cards by union

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COMMENT:

QUOTE

Here’s how work gets authorized: each TDSB janitor has a computer terminal in his or her office that is linked to the public school board’s work-order system. When a teacher or principal, or the janitor, decides something needs fixing or to be installed, the janitor is asked to create a work order. The janitor inputs the information into a computer terminal. At TDSB maintenance head office, a worker is assigned. Depending on the type of work, one of the 900 skilled tradespeople (electricians, carpenters, plumbers, general maintenance, etc.) with the Maintenance and Skilled Trades Council is dispatched.

 

Unless I am missing something…my understanding is that these 900 skilled tradespeople are still paid ie they are not being paid only for work done..but at minimum on call.  

Then they have a monopoly on almost all work required by the TDSB.

So as scenario..if the wages are say $30 hour and they work 8 hours days, thats $240 /day . However, if they need someone to install a pencil sharpener and the bill is $143? …I am missing something here. That pencil sharpener installation should take  10 minutes maximum, likely less.

Even at a normal market price; say (2) minimum charge many parties have to do any call out job, $70 TOPS ?

NOTE: I  worked for Gov’t waaaaaay back..and yes they had “Work Orders”. EXAMPLE Some dept. in the Gov’t agency would request certain work be done…say an Office of Translink ie need shelves…thus carpentry work… so they would write up a Work  Order an send to Translink carpentry shop . What was interesting is that even if it is the same Gov’t company (Translink)….the Office would have to pay for the shelving out if its budget to the Translink carpentry shop. Yes, I know it sounds redundant if not outright stupid.

So the question is..where is all this money going ?   $143 to install a pencil sharpener is what  Normal Pay  ie say 2 hours(minimum) at $30 hour…PLUS  $143 charge on top of the $60  , so it ultimately cost say $203 ? Or even if the total was $143 still outrageous. It implies that the schools are forced to take this out of their operating budget   to support this scam. The Teachers don’t give a shit…..they will support their union brothers and sisters, so this may keep taxes artificially high , correct?.

QUOTE:

Meanwhile, at TDSB headquarters, managers are trying to construct a system that will allow them to monitor workers. One suggestion being tossed around is to install GPS systems on trucks. This was discussed after managers discovered some workers said they were at a job site and were actually at a Tim Hortons, a bar, delivering pamphlets for a paving job using TDSB equipment or, in one case, kissing a girlfriend in a school board van.

The basic term for this is “Featherbedding”….far too many employees than are necessary. They may have union contracts that specify a given job may require (3) separate tradesmen. I recall in Richmond an explanation why certain work crews may have one person working and 4-5 standing around. ie the Bobcat excavator. Wherever the Bobcat is required…it comes as a package with about 4-5 other workers. It may be a one hour job…so the crew all arrives at the site….and watch the Bobcat operator do the one hour job.

……..Or the item I read on another blog re: City of Richmond employee was caught with a lot of equipment stolen for the Works Yard..but no charges were laid because the ID had been removed from the items..how covenient.

Or meeting with my Ex MP in Ladner and he was commenting about how many City Of Richmond vehicles are driven home to City workers homes?

Regardless, this is totally unacceptable and must be challenged. The General Public is not a charity for these fraud artists and deserves MUCH BETTER respect for their hard earned tax dollars.

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