John Sewell rides again!! : LUSENET : Ottawa School Closures : One Thread

School closings don't add up
Tory numbers have no connection with real world of students


Next week Toronto public school board officials will announce the 120 schools in Toronto that must be closed.

This announcement is the result of new provincial rules about operating and capital costs. These rules are not rational, reasonable or meant to improve the education of any child. They are an arbitrary device to wreak havoc.

But unlike previous changes that were directed at teachers, these new rules are aimed directly at children and their parents.

One fifth of Toronto schools will be closed, forcing those children to attend the remaining schools, which are already crowded. Every schoolkid and every parent will feel the impact of this change.

Ridiculous rules

There is no need for these ridiculous new rules. Until two years ago, the Toronto public school system was managed entirely by locally elected school trustees, funded entirely -- both operating and capital expenditures -- by Toronto taxpayers, taking not one cent of subsidy from Queen's Park.

That's the system Mike Harris and Dave Johnson decided to overturn and replace with one tightly controlled by the province.

The new rules set capacity standards for schools and dictate how much money each board will receive for operating costs (heating, lighting, cleaning), serious repairs (new roofs and boilers) and new schools.

To establish the loading capacity of each school, the provincial rule states that there will be 25 children in each classroom (22 kids for secondary schools). The rules stipulate that each of the following rooms are deemed to hold a class of 25 (or 22) students at all times: the art room, computer studies and family studies rooms, the gymnasium, science lab, lunchroom, music room and theatre arts room. All rooms are understood to be at 100-per-cent occupancy at all times.

Real life

Provincial staff have studied the floor plans of all schools in Ontario and, using these calculations, have determined school capacities. Real life never intrudes. Each space is always full -- the music room never has down periods when it might be empty, there's never a period when students are not attending class in the lunchroom, and classes are never smaller than 25.

(If you think it's unreasonable that the lunchroom is considered a class space, look at it this way: if your home were crowded, wouldn't you sleep in the kitchen and consider it a bedroom?)

This calculation provides the loading capacity of each school, which when totalled with other schools provides the loading capacity for the whole of a school board. That is, the number of students the system should accommodate.

The rules say there is far too much unused space in the 585 schools in the Toronto public system -- 11 million square feet of surplus or unused space, the equivalent of 120 surplus schools.

The province provides no money for this surplus or unused space. The rules give $5.20 in operating costs for every square foot of used space (that's apparently the provincial average) and states that every elementary student is entitled to 100 square feet of space.

Here's the calculation for Sir Adam Beck elementary school in Etobicoke. The province says the school's capacity is 359 students. (Now there are 412 students, 150 of them accommodated in six portables.)

The provincial formula provides fundable space of 359x100 square feet, or 35,900 square feet. That's the space the province agrees to fund. At $5.20 per square foot, the province will provide $187,000 to operate this school.

The reality is much different. In physical terms, Sir Adam Beck has 52,000 square feet of space. Even the province agrees with this figure, although that fact does not influence its calculations.

This space is almost 50 per cent more than the provincial formula allows funding for. The provincial calculation takes no account of hallways or other space, but is based on the arbitrary figure of 25 kids (again, multiplied by 100) in every classroom. Using the province's own figures for real space and cost, the operating costs of Sir Adam Beck should be $275,000.

Reality check

But there's another reality check involved. Operating costs in Toronto are not $5.20 per square foot, but $6.38, because of higher Toronto wages for custodians and older, less efficient buildings. (Sir Adam Beck school was built in 1921.)

Provincial rules don't take such factors into account.

Gary Parkinson, the executive officer in charge of facilities and capital programs for the Toronto board, says there are many schools in the same predicament as Sir Adam Beck. He says the operating shortfall for the Toronto system is $113 million a year, or about 35 per cent of the real cost.

And there's more. Since the rules conclude that Toronto has all kinds of extra space, Toronto gets no money to build new schools, and only a limited amount to make major repairs to existing schools.

About $70 million has been spent in each of the last few years on major repairs to school buildings, but the province only provides $27 million, or 35 per cent of what's needed. Yes, the province believes Toronto schools should have leaky roofs and poor heating.

New arrivals

And the rules provide no money for new schools (such as those built for redevelopment areas like the St. Lawrence community or the Goodyear site) or for new arrivals such as the Somali community on Dixon Road. And there's no money to replace older schools, though they have only about a 50-year lifespan.

Provincial rules state that school boards can sell off "surplus schools" to get around the funding crunch, but that must be done by December 31, a date far too near for anyone to meet.

The rules are not just a problem for Toronto. Ajax mayor Steve Parish notes that portables are considered good classrooms under these rules, and that schools in older neighbourhoods will be closed.

With the mayors of Halton, Vaughan and Brampton, Parish has recommended to the GTA mayors committee that unless the rules are changed, no new subdivisions should be approved.

At the Conservative party annual meeting in Ottawa last weekend, premier Mike Harris said, "I wish we were at 100 per cent in the polls and everyone would understand our agenda is for children, for the future."

Shutting schools to help children? Harris is using the big lie as though he were a politburo leader in Eastern Europe.

Maybe the kids, who had the good sense to boo him in the presence of Nelson Mandela, will figure out how to stop him.

-- Anonymous, October 27, 1998

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