Public and Separate School Trustee Debates

Last night, candidates for local Trustee and City Council squared off in the Mount Dennis Legion Hall on Weston Road. The debates were jointly organized by the Mount Dennis, Rockcliffe Smythe and Weston Community associations. The evening began with a debate between two of the five Public School Trustee candidates, Kevin Milburn and two-term incumbent Chris Tonks – for the benefit of about 20 people. The debate was cordial with the two candidates respectful of one another.

Moderator Judith Hayes, Kevin Milburn and Chris Tonks
Moderator Judith Hayes, Kevin Milburn and Chris Tonks

Paralegal Kevin Milburn’s views on education seem to be mainly through the prism of his volunteer work at H.J. Alexander P.S. and says he has spent thousands of hours observing what goes on in the school calling it a model for others. Milburn was able to point to some of the recent scandals at TDSB calling the organization ‘somewhat dysfunctional’ and objects to having ’20 school superintendents all making over $100,000′. He feels that the board could get by with fewer superintendents, claiming that principals and vice-principals ‘don’t need as much supervision’ but instead they need mentoring. He also feels that there is too much red tape and insurance requirements getting in the way of community access to schools after hours. He would get rid of the Board’s permit program and use Toronto’s Parks and Rec to organize after school activities. His three top priorities are fiscal responsibility, student success and infrastructure repairs.

Lawyer Chris Tonks feels that the solution to school excellence and low minority graduation rates is a ‘great principal’. Unlike Milburn, he believes that the Board’s scandals have been taken care of, ‘people have been terminated’. He would like to see all elementary schools revert to a JK – 8 format to foster greater student involvement and attachment. He agrees with Milburn’s criticism that it is more difficult for communities to gain access to schools after hours and offers the suggestion that other levels of government should contribute to after-hours programs. He says that since amalgamation, boards have moved away from people and feels that ‘perhaps we should break down our Board’ into smaller components that would be more responsive to community needs. On the topic of fundraising, Tonks acknowledges the disparity faced by schools in a poor demographic area and allows that there is a need to find ways to increase funding for these schools. His three top priorities are financial integrity, investing in schools and after school programs.

In between the trustee debates was the City Councillor debate which is dealt with in a separate article.

At the end of the evening, only one candidate, Frank D’Amico was present for the Toronto Catholic District School Board Trustee debate so the format became question and answer.

Frank D'Amico
Frank D’Amico

A serving member of the Army Reserve, 7th Toronto Regiment, D’Amico feels that funding is the number one issue facing the TCDSB. He feels that even though funding is supposed to be the same as that in the Public Boards, in practice, ‘We get a little bit less’. One of his fears is that if budget problems aren’t tackled, the Province might take over the Board’s financial affairs. D’Amico says he really enjoys being a trustee and visits schools in the Ward as often as he can as it helps him be better informed. On the role of trustees in advocating on behalf of parents, he feels that he should listen to parents, bring any issues to the board and report back. His top priorities are balancing the budget and ensuring that St. John the Evangelist school gets built.

More details on potential Pelmo land sale

Chris Tonks, the school trustee for our district, opposes the sale of land around Pelmo Park school. He says, however, that the possible sale of school land around Toronto is because the the Ministry of Education is drying up capital funding for schools, and there is “some immediate need” for capital funding.

Tonks said that the schools in Weston are “very well enrolled” right now, and that HJ Alexander is “bursting at the seams” because of an influx of former St John the Evangelist students. He said that he wants to keep the green space around Pelmo Park intact to accommodate future students, since the redevelopment in Weston may lead to increased enrollment. “Pelmo Park is really the only site we have capacity to expand. I don’t think we should sacrifice that capacity. If we sever and we lose that, where are we going to get that greenspace to build?” he said.

Responding to readers’ questions about merging schools in Weston, I asked Vince Baglione, the Principal of Weston Memorial, about the state of his building. He said that the school is fine condition, though they will need a new roof and to work with a few building “quirks”. Both men said that the board is moving to a K–8 model, but that this will be several years away; according to Tonks “there’s no money for expansion right now.”

I tried to get Laura Albanese’s response, but she and I played phone tag over the past few days. I missed two of her calls because I was out. She was in a meeting when I called her back.

Pelmo Park School land may be severed to pay bills

The Toronto Star reports that the TDSB is thinking of selling school land to developers to pay for renovations. One of the schools facing the loss is Pelmo Park in Weston.

According to The Star, Pelmo may be forced to sell 2.9 acres of land—about one-third of its property. The proceeds would be used to put money into the board’s capital budget, which has been frozen by the provincial government. The school board says it has a $3 billion dollar capital debt and a $30 million capital deficit.

Chris Tonks, our trustee, said that he was unable to discuss the particulars of the proposal until after the meeting tonight, but added “I am opposed to any severance and sale of Pelmo Park Public School green space if proposed. In any event, any recommendation by TDSB staff to sever land at any school property should be brought out to the communities that are impacted”.

Sow and Ye Shall Reap

The latest in a string of shootings is no surprise to most people in Weston. It is however a source of mild puzzlement to police and politicians. They simply don’t understand why Weston is seemingly plagued by such events. Let’s look at the facts of the situation we find ourselves in.

An exquisite combination of political bungling, poor planning and corruption permitted the building of large numbers of low income housing several decades ago. This low income housing became a magnet for immigrants seeking a new life in Canada. The village of Weston as part of the City of York was given a major challenge; how to assimilate large numbers of new Canadians and help them to become productive citizens. Unfortunately, Weston has been largely left on its own to achieve this while dealing with problems that have arisen.

The Federal Government is in charge of immigration and knows exactly the stresses placed on Weston by immigration. We need more resources, not fewer and Alan Tonks should be shouting this from the rooftops every day, instead of being satisfied with the occasional photo op and voting with his Tory friends. Lord knows, Alan Tonks is well paid for his work and will receive a pension better than most would dream of as a salary. Is he worth the money? Not in my books. One of his latest efforts is a poorly-written private member’s bill supporting electrification of urban commuter rail operations. Dear old Alan couldn’t even be bothered to check for grammatical errors in the bill! Private members’ bills rarely become law.

The surest way to help first-generation children of immigrants is through education. Schools need extra resources and the very best teachers. Perhaps Alan Tonks’ son Chris could help here. He is our public school trustee.

Laura Albanese is a Liberal MPP in the McGuinty government. As an immigrant herself she should know that Weston needs more resources. She has been an MPP since October of 2007 and seems to have achieved little in that time. Her activity in the provincial legislature comprises mainly of softball questions to Liberal ministers. She has submitted a private member’s bill in favour of electrifying the GO Train system with priority for the Georgetown corridor.

Frances Nunziata has in the past been a fighter for Weston and was instrumental in exposing corruption in the City of York. She has spearheaded some important initiatives such as moving Metrolinx towards serving the people of Weston rather than not stopping in the community. Now, she seems to be lost in the details rather than the bigger picture. Where are we in the planning of a community centre for the area? Is Weston getting value for money from its police services?

Police seem to regard Weston as a dangerous place. When a major crime has been committed we see lots of police. Between crimes we see nothing. When was the last time any of us saw a police officer on foot patrol? According to a recent John Sewell article on police in Toronto, the average police officer averages one dispatched call every 20 hours of duty. Driving around waiting for problems to happen might not be the best approach any more.

The TAVIS initiative supposedly assigns extra police officers to areas ‘experiencing an increase in violent activity’. I wonder if Weston sees any of these officers.

This latest attempted murder seems to have happened at a party or an after-hours club. These are notoriously hard to keep track of as they spring up spontaneously. That said, Weston Road is a fairly obvious place for patrols – would a large number of cars parked in an area at 4 a.m. be worth investigating? Admittedly, that would require courage and initiative but isn’t that what we pay our officers for?

Last for censure is the criminal element in Weston which seems to feel the need to carry weapons and use them when their delicate egos are threatened by an accidental brush or an ill-timed comment. Real men don’t carry guns, they find work and lose the fantasy that they are part of a gang. Real men try to better themselves in the face of adversity—they don’t choose to be a plague on society.