The City of Toronto won't budge on a decision that cut off free swimming lessons for children at a Regent Park school.
Regent Park/Duke of York Junior Public School offered the free lessons for about 15 years until the city ended a special arrangement between the school and the pool at nearby John Innes Community Recreation Centre. The school used to use the pool for free, but the city told the school it now has to pay a $40,000 permit fee.
The issue has revealed strained relations between the city and the school board. It is not the responsibility of the city to come up with the money for the school to use the pool, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone said Thursday. "The school board has got to do its job," he said. "City hall cannot do the work of the school board."
In the past, the school board and the city let each other use their facilities in kind, but the arrangement ended after the school boards amalgamated in 1998. The neighbourhood's special needs resulted in the school using the pool for free until now.
Swimming lessons are particularly important at schools such as Regent Park/Duke of York that have a high population of new Canadians, Lifesaving Society public education director Barbara Byers said. Lifesaving Society research shows immigrants are at a greater risk of drowning than people born in Canada.
"It's very important that all children have the opportunity to learn how to swim," Ms. Byers said.
After The Globe and Mail published a story about the situation on Thursday, mayoral candidate George Smitherman called a news conference on the steps of the pool and criticized the city and the school board for not being able to co-operate on the issue.
"It's extremely frustrating that these levels of government, these entities which are publicly funded, don't seem to be able to get over historic problems and find a way to work together to the benefit of kids," Mr. Smitherman said.
Mr. Smitherman's campaign is managed by Bruce Davis, the chair of the school board's trustees. Mr. Davis did not want to comment on the issue on behalf of the board because of the conflict between his two positions.
The trustees' vice-chair Chris Bolton admitted the city and school board don't always get along, but said the two groups don't have to be at odds.
"It's fair to say there's always room for improvement between the school board and the city and vice versa - we seem to often operate in two solitudes," Mr. Bolton said. "It just kind of surprises me that we're at this stage of affairs."