There have been rumblings recently about the discrepancy in school fundraising by parent associations. Some schools raise more money than others, raising questions of equality and access. Fundraising is a band-aid solution to the real problem that schools simply do not have enough money for capital repairs.
A few years ago, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) considered closing pools. Recently, the TDSB has also looked at selling underutilized schools and excess green space. When the board was considering closing the school pools, the community pushed back. Although these pools are located in schools, they belong to the community and are critical for supporting swimming lessons and swim clubs outside of school hours. The community was successful in convincing the board to partner with the City of Toronto and keep the pools open.
This same type of approach needs to happen again for underutilized schools and green spaces. The board is trying to make ends meet by selling green space. It is happening throughout the city including in North Toronto. The school board determined that kids only need a little bit of space to play, so the plan is to cut the field at Bannockburn School in half and sell off the land to developers.
The entire situation is absurd. Everyone agrees that there should be more parkland, not less. Everyone agrees that schools and school property are not just for educational purposes, but for the entire community to use. Everybody agrees that there needs to be more funding for the aging Toronto schools because the per capita funding does not cover the required capital costs. So why is it so hard to find a solution?
The solution is difficult because the board’s mandate does not include community use of school facilities. The province, believing that the TDSB could better manage its assets, mandated that the board sell schools and parkland in order to reinvest the money within the existing system.
The province has to be convinced that the school boards are managing their assets effectively before amending the legislation to allow development-charge funding to flow. Some of the recent controversy around trustee expenses can undermine the confidence of the province.
Now that half of the TDSB trustees have been replaced, it might be the time to start discussing real solutions to the challenges facing the schools and communities. Pizza lunches may help bring a few resources to the individual schools, but real leadership is required to make sure our kids have places to play and green space is maintained.
Karen Stintz is a former Midtown city councillor and former TTC chair. She lives in Ward 16 with her husband and two kids.