Schools Should be Growing With Our Neighbourhoods

By Markus O’Brien-Fehr – Chief of Staff

As a dad sending young kids to school this fall, I’ve shared apprehension with many parents about how this year is going to work. Can kids be adequately distanced in these spaces, especially with surging COVID-19 numbers in our community?

I’ve made a few observations over the first couple of weeks. First, teachers are working very hard and adding great creativity doing their instruction in a completely different and difficult educational environment. Second, schools simply don’t have the resources or physical space to get kids as spaced out as we’d like them to be.

In Willowdale, crowding in schools was an issue long before COVID-19. Kids living in condos often can’t go to the neighbourhood school for lack of space. They require bussing to schools further away, which again creates situations where kids have to be spaced closer together for long periods. The TDSB in particular lacks the funding to grow schools with their communities in a predictable way. Parents are increasingly frustrated. Condo developers in growth centres should contribute funds to the TDSB the way they do for other community infrastructure.

What’s even more frustrating is that there is an easy fix to this problem. Educational Development Charges (EDCs) already work in other parts of the province, as well as with Toronto’s Catholic school board to leverage development money to pay for school space. Provincial regulations restrict this with the TDSB because there may be schools under-used in other parts of Toronto far away from the growth centres. It’s long past time for this to change.

This week, the Broadbent Institute, in partnership with Fix Our Schools and Progress Toronto, released a report The Missing Money Our Schools Need Now. It is a highly informative account of the history of the problem, an examination of how this problem is going to get worse, and proposed solutions. For parents (and grandparents) in Willowdale, it’s well worth a read. An online petition has also been launched if you share the belief that our schools should be growing with our neighbourhoods.

COVID-19 has forced governments to re-think how many services are provided and how to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are protected. School crowding concerns didn’t start with a pandemic – but it should create urgency in finding solutions.