Just got back from an extremely well attended public meeting about the Toronto District School Board's plans for the future of West Toronto Collegiate (330 Lansdowne Avenue, just north of College Street). I estimated well over 200 people in attendance and the meeting was covered by Global TV, Now Magazine and Inside Toronto community news.
It seems that many people were made aware of the meeting just this morning, yet cared enough to show up on short notice. (Prior meetings were held in the fall of 2009 but were not as well attended)
Even though the predictable announcement was made that recommendations called for the school to be closed this August, the community gathered together to give a resounding "NO" to that intention. Candidates running for city council, the sitting councillor and the school trustee for the area (Maria Rodrigues) were unanimous in calling for the school to not be closed.
An impressive display by about 30 ESL students carrying signs protesting the closure opened the meeting. Many people talked about the importance of recognizing the need for adult education and continuing education and questioned why that did not seem to be a priority in the analysis and recommendations done by the board.
In a city as diverse as Toronto (180 languages) and a ward where under 40% of the people say their mother tongue is not English and about 24% have no high school education, using the facility for that purpose seems a no-brainer.
There were many questions asked by concerned parents about the immediate plans for their children's education. Most were unsatisfied with the answers given.
The school is a relatively new building (opened in 1972) and is recognized as having full access for the disabled, excellent pool, track and gym facilities, and well utilized 8.5 acre greenspace. The programs in place for special education are recognized as superlative.
There has been declining enrollment, as this is city-wide in many schools.
I have to wonder if this is a natural or engineered phenomenon. As housing stock is gentrified (turned into expensive housing and condos), the population ages and former families are forced to move out to the suburbs, we do see a blip of childless people. Yet, immigration is increasing and there will be new development in former industrial lands nearby. Does it not make sense that we could see a boom in demand for regular education classes in the area? Should educational facilities planning not be looking 20-30 years ahead, rather than responding to a short term budget crunch?
The question in my mind is what kind of community do we want here? Singles in big, dense condominiums or mixed housing that meets the needs of the broad, diverse community?
The kicker is that the school funding formula from the Mike Harris years has a peculiar way of looking at square foot usage: if you have music, arts or special programs, their use is deemed to be 'empty' - so no provincial funding. The Dalton McGuinty ("Education Premier ?") provincial government is acting slowly to revise the formula.
Yet the Toronto District School Board under Chris Spence appears to be acting with unseemly haste to force the process to close schools down and sell off assets to recoup funding gaps. This is hasty, short term thinking in my view. Once an asset is gone - it is gone, and the community will be worse off for it.
There was one recommedation (that was admitted to be outside the scope of the review process) which called for the property to be kept by the TDSB for use by the local community. What this means exactly is unclear as such a recommendation can be easily ignored by the terms of the review process in place. Smoke and mirrors?
How this will all play out is uncertain. Many in the community believe this a 'done deal', even though I was able to get the meeting leaders on record to say it is not.
Fuzzy, but appears there will be a final-final chance for formal deputations to the TDSB:
Monday, April 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm at 5050 Yonge Street.
Here are some groups trying to mobilize the community for this important meeting:
SAVE OUR SCHOOLS http://saveschools.wordpress.com/
CUPE local 4400 http://www.cupe4400.org/static/staticview.cfm?topic=25
Trustee Maria Rodrigues http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/viewitem.asp?siteid=176&pageid=176&menuid=176