TDSB trustee candidates talk platform

On October 22, voters of Beaches—East York will be marking an “X” beside the name of who they hope to be their new school board trustees. With election day around the corner, trustee
candidates will be making the final push to convince voters why they should be chosen to represent the needs of parents and children in Ward 16 of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
Trustee candidates wrote in to Beach Metro News to tell us about their platform and why they are running. Here it is, at a glance.

Michelle Aarts

As a TDSB Advisory Committee member, a university researcher and a parent of three TDSB students, Michelle Aarts said that she knows what children need to reach their full post-secondary potential.

Michelle has a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and a career in neuroscience research, teaching and consulting. Over the last decade, she has dedicated her time to local schools, community agencies, equity initiatives, and to the TDSB itself to support education. Aarts is running for trustee so she can be the strong independent voice the school system needs to support and protect TDSB students and to advocate their needs to all levels of government.

TOP PRIORITIES: “I have met countless families and teachers who are negatively impacted by racialization, inequity, large class sizes, inconsistent resources, and lack of timely assessments of student need.” Aarts plans to work with the board to ensure that class sizes reflect provincial maximums. She will also facilitate greater access to equity and special education training for school staff. Her other top priority is to create accessible, walkable community hubs within local schools.

Brandy Huff

Brandy Huff wants to be the voice she needed when she was a student. Armed with professional work experience with the municipal and provincial government, and a master’s degree in business administration, Huff is prepared to navigate bureaucracy in the board. She is also committed to listening to the concerns of parents and children and representing the community’s voice to influence positive change.

TOP PRIORITIES: Huff’s platform is geared towards allocating more resources to students through after-school child care programs, reduction of classroom sizes and advocacy for a sex-ed curriculum that includes consent, cyber safety and LGBTQ inclusive material. Huff said she will advocate for safer and stronger schools by fighting for more infrastructure funding to repair the ward’s “crumbling schools.” She will also prioritize Ward 16 in the city’s Vision Zero initiative to improve school zone safety. About the new Premier Doug Ford provincial government, Huff said, “Like him or hate him, we are stuck with him for four years; to address the community’s concerns, the TDSB will need to work with, advocate and fight to see change.”

Kuga Kasilingam

As a member and treasurer of the Cluster Parent Academy Committees (CPAC), Kula Kasilingam has gained a deep understanding of school board’s administration system. He aims to fill the need for trustees who can balance the budget and allocate funds to repair the structural damage to public schools in the ward.

“I feel I could use my expertise in financial management and accounting as well as administrative law to tackle these issues and be a good negotiator and bargainer at the board level on behalf of our ward and to be a good representative for our community,” he said.

TOP PRIORITIES: Kasilingam said that teacher absenteeism and last minute substitutions of supply teachers need to be addressed. He plans to hire more qualified teachers and implement a school transfer policy within the board. He will also work to mitigate overcrowded classrooms, especially at the kindergarten level. His platform, overall, revolves around student achievement, well-being and equity. “I am committed to creating more inclusive and equitable school system,” he said.

Phil Pothen

Phil Pothen is running for trustee because he has two small children who will be in Beaches—East York TDSB schools for at least a dozen more years. As a lawyer, community organizer, and former policy chair, Pothen said that he possesses the skillset needed to meet the challenges of the new political environment in the board.

“For the next few years, the official lines of communication and persuasion (e.g. statutory consultative bodies and processes) aren’t going to be effective. Every inch of progress we make (or hold) will have to be ripped from the resisting hands of the provincial government through a combination of litigation, political pressure — and unflinching, sometimes unconventional uses of the board’s own authority,” he wrote.

TOP PRIORITIES: Pothen asserted that he will resist the inevitable push for cutbacks and policy intervention from the “far-right provincial government” because it will throw the ward’s most vulnerable students, families and schools “under the bus.” For example, he will fight against the watering down of programs such as the Model Schools for Inner Cities program and the Intensive Support Programs (ISPs), which are designed to level the playing field for kids already at a systemic disadvantage. He also said that he will work for stronger partnerships between the TDSB and Toronto City Council.

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