Trustee candidates tackle funding, class size

Aging portables, crowded kindergartens, under-used schools and playing nice with Queen’s Park.

Judging by all the issues parents raised at a Sept. 30 debate at Community Centre 55, the next public school trustee for Beaches-East York has plenty to do after Toronto’s Oct. 27 election.

From left, TDSB trustee candidates Jen Sagar, Navarius Mombo, Marietta Fox and Sheila-Cary Meagher respond to parents' questions at an Oct. 7 debate hosted by Community Centre 55.
From left, TDSB trustee candidates Jen Sagar, Navarius Mombo, Marietta Fox and Sheila-Cary Meagher respond to parents’ questions at an Oct. 7 debate hosted by Community Centre 55.

Sheila Cary-Meagher, Marietta Fox, Navarius Mombo and Jen Sagar are the four candidates competing for the job. It means overseeing 26 schools in Ward 16 of the Toronto District School Board, all for an honorarium of $24,500.

A former teacher who was first elected as a trustee in 1973 and re-elected in 2010, Cary-Meagher said too many Ward 16 schools have portables, especially those north of Danforth Avenue.

“In this ward we have 1,000 children who are not in proper classrooms,” she said, noting that is by the Ontario government’s own data, and not the TDSB’s.

Secord, Adam Beck, Kew Beach, Gledhill, Presteign Heights, and Kimberley all need additions to replace their portable classrooms, she said — at Secord, the portables are more than 20 years old.

While an addition is being built at George Webster Elementary this year, Cary-Meagher said that funding came from $300 million in property sales that the TDSB is unlikely to repeat.

“We need to keep every property we have right now for the next 10 years,” she said, noting that the grandchildren of the baby boomers are now entering elementary school. “We cannot be selling. How do we buy in this market anymore? We can’t.”

Navarius Mombo, a father with three children in school, suggested the TDSB could lease vacant land to fund the necessary school additions.

“You have property lying there that you’re not using,” said Mombo. “What do you do with that?”

Marietta Fox, a French Montessori teacher whose three sons have all attended public schools, said it’s too early for her to commit to such a plan.

“I’m not on the inside, so I don’t know all the details,” she said. But having read the TDSB’s enrolment forecasts, Fox did express concern that the numbers are expected to rise again.

Sagar, a mother of three and the Glen Ames school council chair, took a similar position.

“The information that I get is the same as the information you get at this point,” she said. “I think the real benefit of having somebody new in this position is that it’s going to be a fresh set of eyes.”

Parents from Norway Public School came to the debate with a more immediate concern — the school has full-day kindergarten classes with as many as 32 students. That is the maximum allowed by Ontario’s education ministry, which requires one teacher and one Early Childhood Educator in the class.

Fox said in the several parent meetings she has held as a candidate, the kindergarten class-size issue came up time and time again. “As a teacher, I know what it’s like to be in a classroom with too many kids to handle, and what that makes me feel like — I feel like I can’t do my job.”

Speaking to the Norway parents, Cary-Meagher said, “I totally agree with you — it stinks. And it’s the provincial regulation, and we’re stuck with it.”

Cary-Meagher said a child going from a senior kindergarten class of 32 to a Grade 1 class capped at 20 must feel better in Grade 1, which is backwards. While she supports full-day kindergarten, she said the numbers are not in line with the province’s original plan.

“The more noise you make, the better,” she said.

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