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Move aside, $16 orange juice. Here comes a $143 pencil sharpener!


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#1 Common sense

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 02:19 PM

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 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.

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.

http://www.thestar.c...t-the-beginning


That's right...your (as in Torontonians') tax monies are going to this type of crap and red tape. Absolutely disgusted at the amount of bureaucracy needed to do something as simple as put in 4 screws.
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#2 key2thecup

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 02:25 PM

Willing to bet its not only T-Dot dealing with this type of taxpayer waste
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#3 LostViking

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 02:50 PM

A simple matter of no one pressuring them to save money. In fact, the biggest pressure would probably be to spend as much as possible. The more cash you spend, the bigger the budget you can ask for next year. If you end up saving money, your budget will shrink.

Now it makes sense to get these costs under control, but of course, once you threaten to take away the children's pencil sharpener you will have an army of parents calling for your head.


This is why I work in the corporate world, where it goes something like this:

Me: Lets stop wasting money
Business Owner: Great idea

Edited by LostViking, 07 December 2012 - 02:52 PM.

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#4 Heretic

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 03:03 PM

To be honest, I don't really see an issue other than a couple of trivial ones.

I work in IT, yet at my company, I'm not allowed to move my computer from one desk to another - has to be done by movers.
Why? Mainly because of insurance.

So yes, teachers shouldn't be moving benches, getting on ladders to replace light bulbs or smoke detectors, etc.

What do you thin it costs to have something done?

I had 150 feet of a farm fence just installed - pressure treated posts and 4 10 foot round pressure treated rails between each post.
Mainly done by one guy but the owner/operator helped a couple of the days.
Retail price would have been $3000. Gray market was $2000.

Yes...some of those costs needed to be audited....hanging a white board? 2 guys, maybe 2 hours tops - should have been no more than $300 plus the cost of the board. Maybe they did other "jobs" around the school - but that's what an audit should determine.
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#5 D-Money

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 03:04 PM

I knew a prison guard once, who said when it got close to the end of fiscal, and they still had money in the budget, they were encouraged to basically destroy their office machines.

Why? The bass-ackwards government policy of basing budgets on what was previously spent.

Managed to save 5% of your budget this year? Congrats! Here's your reward: a permanent 5% decrease in your budget! Enjoy!

Edited by D-Money, 07 December 2012 - 03:05 PM.

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#6 canucks since 77

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 04:12 PM

Whatever happened to the custodians that did most of these maint. problems on salary?
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#7 Down by the River

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 04:13 PM

Back when I was in elementary school, we would perform half of those jobs. Want a bench moved? Get up and move it. Hang some art? Get some tacks. Graffiti in the washroom? Make the culprit clean it off.

Both my parents are teachers. Have been for 30 years. They usually have a budget of ~$200 to make their classroom 'look nice'. If they wanted something extra, they did it themselves. Why? Because they care about their job, and when you truly care about something, you generally have good motivation to get things done on your own.
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#8 key2thecup

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 04:15 PM

A simple matter of no one pressuring them to save money. In fact, the biggest pressure would probably be to spend as much as possible. The more cash you spend, the bigger the budget you can ask for next year. If you end up saving money, your budget will shrink.


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#9 n00bxQb

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 04:33 PM

I knew a prison guard once, who said when it got close to the end of fiscal, and they still had money in the budget, they were encouraged to basically destroy their office machines.

Why? The bass-ackwards government policy of basing budgets on what was previously spent.

Managed to save 5% of your budget this year? Congrats! Here's your reward: a permanent 5% decrease in your budget! Enjoy!

When I worked in retail, end of fiscal year was a jackpot. You have no idea how many government-funded groups come in and say, "I NEED to spend $XXXX." One year, I had a group that NEEDED to spend $36,000 on new computers and office equipment. They were back the next year NEEDING to spend about $15,000 to upgrade the stuff they bought the previous year :picard:

I can't complain too much because my quarterly bonuses were astronomical those quarters (usually bumped me from about $17/hour to $20-$25/hour for that quarter), but every time I'd help them spend that money, I couldn't help but feel guilty because I knew exactly where this money was coming from (taxpayers) and it wasn't at all necessary.
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#10 Lancaster

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 06:58 PM

Spoiler


Tell about it. I requested a 2nd monitor and it took 2 weeks to arrive, even though I've seen a few just lying about (although I'm not sure if they were working or not). Once it did arrive it was just on my desk and I was told that I couldn't hook it up myself because it's a job for IT. That took another day for it to be done. Had I been given free reign, I could have finished everything within 5 minutes instead of 2 weeks.


At the same time, I do understand how the reasoning behind those outrageous prices. I'll use an example:
You are in the sales department and your budget for the year is $100,000. When it's getting closer to the end of the year, you realized that you spent only $50,000 and you don't need anything else more. Most rational people who assume that you just keep that $50,000 for next year and you get a pat on the back for saving money. Unfortunately, the extra room isn't bankable. Your superiors will automatically decrease your budget for next year as your current expenses is far below the amount allocated. So now next year, you will only have $50,000 to use, and if you go over, prepare for a lot of explaining on why went "over-budget".

What those department group do is if you have $50,000 left over, you spend the rest of it, since you can't just pocket the extra money. Thus you see the ordering of new chairs, tons of paper, a new clock or whatever your employees want. Sometimes you have that much money left over and you have purchase more than enough stuff, but you're still under-budget.... that's when people fudge the numbers a bit. Instead of buying a pack of gum for a dollar, you expense it as 10 bucks. A hammer is $10, nope, you use $200.

That's how we get those $143 pencil sharpeners, etc. Not really the most responsible thing to do, but if you don't use it, you lose it.
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#11 NightHawkSniper

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 07:31 PM

School unions are a pain.
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#12 Common sense

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 09:48 PM

School unions are a pain.


Most unions are.
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#13 Mr. White

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 02:18 PM

Who needs to call someone to install a pencil sharpener? Could none of the teachers/janitors figure out how to screw in one screw?
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#14 Pouria

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 03:17 PM

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 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.

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.

http://www.thestar.c...t-the-beginning


That's right...your (as in Torontonians') tax monies are going to this type of crap and red tape. Absolutely disgusted at the amount of bureaucracy needed to do something as simple as put in 4 screws.


I wish they would give that money to me to do the job. Painting an office which only takes 2 hours and I would get paid $1700 to do it. Wish I could become the worker for school district to do these things.
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#15 Pouria

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 03:19 PM

Who needs to call someone to install a pencil sharpener? Could none of the teachers/janitors figure out how to screw in one screw?


And people wonder where our tax money goes.
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#16 Common sense

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 06:09 PM

I wish they would give that money to me to do the job. Painting an office which only takes 2 hours and I would get paid $1700 to do it. Wish I could become the worker for school district to do these things.


At the very most, it would take 3 full days to paint one room - one to buy the paint and move furniture around, one for the first coat, and one for the second coat.

Assuming a wage of $35/hr for 21 hrs (7*3), that's in total about 735. Not sure how that number could be doubled...

Edited by Common sense, 08 December 2012 - 06:10 PM.

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#17 Pouria

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 08:29 PM

At the very most, it would take 3 full days to paint one room - one to buy the paint and move furniture around, one for the first coat, and one for the second coat.

Assuming a wage of $35/hr for 21 hrs (7*3), that's in total about 735. Not sure how that number could be doubled...


It took only 2 days for me to paint a 700 SQ. FT. suite which included moving some stuff and putting 2 coats. It would only take me a day to do a 100 SQ. FT. office. It doesn't take one day to get a paint. You can use paints that dry in 1 hour and apply another coat. 3 days to paint a small office is a bit ridiculous.
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#18 Captain Bob

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 09:34 PM

There was a $183 pencil sharpener on Groupons

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#19 Common sense

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 12:52 AM

It took only 2 days for me to paint a 700 SQ. FT. suite which included moving some stuff and putting 2 coats. It would only take me a day to do a 100 SQ. FT. office. It doesn't take one day to get a paint. You can use paints that dry in 1 hour and apply another coat. 3 days to paint a small office is a bit ridiculous.


It depends - I know some contractors that my dad has worked for that required him to leave a 24-hr interval in between coats of paint (their rationale was that it would fully dry and be nicer). Very rare, but it does happen.
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