After predicting for years that school enrolments will drop drastically, TDSB staff are now saying that the opposite is true. This according to official TDSB reports projected enrolment numbers through to 2036 (see tables below). These new statistics pose a serious problem for the TDSB because it still stands by its ‘Big Plan’ for a massive sell-off of schools.
The Board (TDSB) has told and will tell many communities that their enrolment numbers are crashing so badly that their local school must close. But the anticipated closure of over 50 community schools and the sale of the land to developers – potentially bringing in several hundred million dollars – is primarily motivated by the need to start addressing a series capital deficit that was created by the province government. This deficit is estimated to be over $2 billion.
Oh, by the way, no one calls this the Board’s ‘Big Plan.’ But it’s clear enough to me – and anyone else who is watching closely – that that’s basically what’s going on. And it’s where the Board has been heading for years.
But here’s the hitch: According to its own staff, the Board enrolment will actually rise in the next 15 years. When factoring in the rising enrolment due to the mandated all-day kindergarten programs, it will need all the student places that it has. So it’s completely short-sighted for the Board to sell off any assets that it is going to need. Can you imagine the Board trying to buy land back in the city of Toronto to build new schools? The cost? The availability? The crowding?
Now, there are some trustees who like school closings. It gives them something serious to do and fulfills their right wing instincts to cut public services. Last year they tried to close over a dozen schools using the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process and all but two survived. One of the surviving schools, Shoreham PS, was saved only after the Jane-Finch community completely disrupted the official school closing process.
But now even those trustees are starting to ask questions, questions that they have heard asked by their community members and that they have ignored during numerous school closing ARC meetings. In a way, we should actually pity the senior staff of the TDSB, who work for the Province and who are being pushed to sell off school land because that’s what their true bosses really want. They’re going to have a hard time creating meaningful PowerPoint Presentations for the next ARC meetings with these new enrolment projections. Someone is bound to raise the point that enrolment is projected to increase and they are going to be hard to refute.
To date, the board is still focused on closing as many schools as it can get away with. Regent Park’s Duke of York Junior Public School is one of the schools that they will be targeting, in spite (or because?) of the massive redevelopment in the area. But don’t expect the Board to reopen the issue. Brooks Road PS in Scarborough will close as well, even though its enrolment numbers are at capacity.
If the Board reopens the issue for any school after a successful ARC process, it would have to do it for the other ten that they closed last year.
So the lesson is if the Board is calling for a school to close in your community, you can and should fight it. The numbers are on your side, quite literally! The longer you can keep your school open, the more chance it has of being around for your grandchildren.