The charges collected on new development for new schools in Simcoe County will have to go up if population growth continues at the rate it's going, according to a new report.
A background study by Watson & Associates was recently released by the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB), which explores the current state of education development charges (EDCs) at both boards, how much land for new schools costs under current estimates, how many new students they’re expected to welcome over the next 15 years and how many new schools the boards will need to build to keep up with that growth.
Education development charges are, however, limited by provincial legislation, and it's not enough to cover the new schools needed to serve an influx of new students expected for Simcoe County over the next decade and a half.
“We know we’ve been under-collecting for a long time,” said Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee and public school board chair Jodi Lloyd. “We’ve written letters to the ministry expressing our concerns related to this and how we’re going to continue to fund new school sites in a rapidly growing board like ours.”
“EDCs are critically important to us. This is one part of the capital-planning puzzle,” she said.
The funding for building new schools anywhere in the province is provided through two funding streams: education development charges pay for the land, while capital priority funds from the province pay for the construction and building of schools.
To read more about the current state of capital priority funding for schools in Simcoe County, click here.
When a building permit is pulled for a new development in any municipality, educational development charges are collected and sent by the municipality to the school board to prepare for the building of a school to accommodate the growth that will be brought to the area by the development.
Under the current EDC bylaw through the Simcoe County public board which was passed on Oct. 25, 2018, rates were set at $1,311 per residential unit, and $0.35 per square foot for non-residential spaces. The rate across Simcoe County had stayed stagnant since at least 2013.
According to a presentation provided by Watson and Associates to public board trustees earlier this year, this was due to a decision by the provincial government in 2018 to freeze EDCs. In June 2019, the province passed amending legislation allowing boards to pass new bylaws, however new EDC rates had to be phased in.
“We are in a deficit position right now. There are restrictions in place from the ministry on EDCs. They’ve restricted school boards on how much they can increase their EDCs,” said Lloyd.
As of 2022, the residential rate for the public board stood at $2,811 per residential unit, and $0.45 per square foot for non-residential spaces, while the Catholic board stood at $1,472 per residential unit and $0.15 per square foot for non-residential spaces.
According to the newly released report, in order to keep up with updated land costs, the public board would need to triple what they’re collecting: $8,854 per residential unit and $2.06 per square foot for non-residential spaces, while the Catholic board would need to be collecting $3,453 per residential unit and $0.80 per square foot for non-residential spaces.
“(The consultant) is proposing the rate, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be that because of the restrictions from the province,” said Lloyd.
According to the background study, 83,965 new housing units are projected to be built in Simcoe County over the next 15 years.
The study projects this would bring an increase of 17,918 new elementary students and 6,531 secondary students to the public system in that time frame, while the Catholic board's expected enrolment will increase by 5,407 elementary and 2,142 secondary students.
Due to the student influx, the study estimates 34 new elementary schools and five new secondary schools will be needed for the public board, while 12 new elementary schools and two new secondary schools will be needed for the Catholic board..
Based on an appraisal completed by Andrew, Thompson, and Associates real estate advisors, the per-acre site acquisition values of real estate in Simcoe County ranges from $700,000 to $2,500,000 at this time. Most land sites best suited to house a school range between three and 18 acres depending on a variety of factors.
Both boards are required by the province to pass new education development charge bylaws by Oct. 29. EDC bylaws need to be approved by the Ministry of Education before going into effect.
The first two public meetings on education development changes will be held Sept. 7 starting at 6 p.m. at the Simcoe County District School Board’s education centre at 1170 Highway 26 in Midhurst. A third meeting will be held on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board’s Catholic Education Centre at 46 Alliance Boulevard in Barrie.
Ideally, the boards are hoping to receive feedback from stakeholders such as municipalities, developers, homebuilder associations or anyone else who would like to have input.
“Ultimately the board wants to enact a bylaw prior to, or at, the expiry date of the current bylaw to ensure there is no gap in EDC collections so that the board is as well-positioned as possible to fund new school-site acquisitions,” said Andrew Keuken, senior manager of planning with the public school board.
“The board and staff are hopeful that, if there are any concerns expressed by the stakeholders, we find out as soon as possible so they can be considered when developing final recommendations for board consideration,” he added.
For more information and to access the full background study, click here.