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Secord Elementary students Eagan Tormey and Cole Saros in the hallway of one of the many portables on the school grounds Jan 29, 2013 showing unfinished drywall work. Parents are upset with the TDSB and the priority given to some schools in need of repairs. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Secord Elementary students Eagan Tormey and Cole Saros in the hallway of one of the many portables on the school grounds Jan 29, 2013 showing unfinished drywall work. Parents are upset with the TDSB and the priority given to some schools in need of repairs. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Education

Parents in poorer Toronto areas demand more school funds Add to ...

Parents in one East York community say the Toronto District School Board is playing favourites with the city’s most affluent schools, funding construction work in some parts of the city while children in their working-class and immigrant neighbourhood attend class in decaying portables.

The board has faced widespread criticism for the way it spends on construction projects, and a $10-million budget overrun at Nelson Mandela Park Public School prompted the Ontario government to stop funding for new TDSB school buildings in October.

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Less than two weeks ago, the province announced that some projects would go ahead, and that funding was being made available for additions and retrofits to a handful of schools, including Swansea Public and Earl Haig Secondary schools.

“I don’t begrudge them, but it’s our turn,” said Peter Saros, who has two sons who attend Secord Elementary School. “We will no longer be that community that [politicians] can push around.”

Parents from Secord and other surrounding schools in need of capital upgrades will be attending a TDSB committee meeting Wednesday night. They are urging the board to get its financial house in order and win funding for their children from the province.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Paris Meilleur, said that funding was made available to the other schools because “they were more urgent, had better business cases, and were high priorities for the board and the ministry.”

Swansea and Keele Street public schools are both dealing with enrolment and full-day kindergarten pressures, while Earl Haig crams 2,100 students into a building meant to accommodate 1,800, she said.

The board will not be allowed to begin new construction projects until it has drafted “an acceptable” plan for dealing with its $50-million capital deficit, Ms. Meilleur said.

The school Mr. Saros’s two sons attend is crowded beyond capacity. Some classes are held in one of the oldest portable units within the system. Flooding has stained the drywall, ceiling tiles are missing and, most recently, the school has been tackling a raccoon infestation.

The community is growing, and struggling for ways to accommodate full-day kindergarten.

“It’s unacceptable,” said local trustee Sheila Cary-Maegher. “These schools are all inner city, and they’ve been at the bottom of the list for a long time.”

Ms. Cary-Maegher said another school in that community, George Webster Elementary School, is struggling with a crowding crisis and that requires construction on a new school building to begin immediately.

“If something isn’t done in the next two years, they’ll have something like 20 portables on-site,” she said.

An independent report raised concerns about the way the TDSB spends on routine and major construction projects, pointing to a lack of accountability and oversight as a key issue. A ministry-appointed team of advisers has started working with the board to improve operations, and TDSB staff and trustees have begun discussing the board’s budget for the upcoming year.

The board’s Planning and Priorities Committee will meet Wednesday evening to discuss a number of issues related to its facilities department, including a contract to install global positioning systems (GPS) in TDSB maintenance vehicles.

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