Elementary schools in Parkdale-High Park are bursting at the seams, say local parent council members.
Ward 7’s Runnymede Junior and Senior Public Schools and Swansea Public School, are as much as 30 per cent over capacity. Playground space is shrinking due to the growing number of portables; class sizes have reached as many as 40 students while storage closets have been transformed into classrooms.
“The lunchtime noise level is beyond deafening – above what’s been considered acceptable,” Runnymede P.S. council co-chair Caron Iybould told The Villager. “Kids are being shoved into smaller and smaller classrooms. Some of the gym classes take place in the hall instead of the gym. God help us when full-day kindergarten comes in, in 2014.”
Iybould, whose daughter Jasmine, 8, and son Miles, 6, attend the Runnymede Road and Colbeck Avenue area school, admits the overcrowding exists in part because it’s a victim of its own success.
“We have this problem because Runnymede is such a great school,” she said. Meanwhile, the situation at Swansea P.S. is just as dire, according to parent council member Amy Sullivan.
“Swansea is at 127 per cent capacity. Our play space is shrinking – we have six portables. We need four more for full-day kindergarten,” said Sullivan, whose daughter is in Grade 2. “There are 130 kids at lunch in the lunch room. It’s supposed to hold 60. There are 12 toilets for 675 kids.”
It has yet to reach crisis mode at Keele Street P.S., says school advisory council representative Lisa Papsiopoulous.
“It isn’t that bad yet at Keele, but we’ll need three new classrooms for full-day kindergarten in 2014. Our main concern at Keele is that we’re over 100 per cent capacity,” said Papsiopoulous, who has a son in Grade 1 and another who’s three-and-a-half and starts kindergarten next year. “He’ll be a part of that cohort that will become full-day kindergarten.”
Additions at Keele and Swansea public schools were recommended and approved by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) last June only to be put on hold by the Ministry of Education in the fall. That’s why representatives from area school councils have banded together to appeal to the decision-makers at the TDSB and the ministry to address the issue of overcrowding by releasing the funding necessary to implement the additions.
They are lobbying their local MPs, MPPs and city councillors for support and working to generate public awareness.
“This is a pivotal moment for us,” said Sullivan. “We have full-day kindergarten bearing down on us like a freight train.”
The issue of overcrowding in Ward 7 is far from new to Trustee Irene Atkinson. She’s been working on it with a TDSB feasibility team for eight years. Atkinson attributes the overcrowding in part to the purification of condominiums and an “explosion” in demand for French Immersion.
“We had 1,000 applicants city-wide more than we had spots for; 125 in this ward,” Atkinson said. Even though the additions, part of a five-year TDSB capital funding program, were initially approved and discussions with architects and design committees had begun, the ministry froze the funding, Atkinson said.
“The ministry is not assured we’ll do all projects the cheapest way possible and that we would have the source to pay for it,” she added. “What we decided to do is, to sever land and to sell off buildings not being used as schools. Nothing would be severed in this area because our lots are so small. Fifteen, 20, 23 acres, those are the sizes of the school properties that would be severed.” The ministry does not have a problem with the two local additions.
“The rationale for building them is sound,” said Atkinson.
However, if construction doesn’t begin by this spring, they won’t be ready for the beginning of the next school term.
In a letter to TDSB Director of Education Chris Spence, Ministry of Education Assistant Deputy Minister Gabriel F. Sékaly said that “While the board has made progress in selling a number of surplus properties, the revenues achieved have not been able to keep pace with higher overall capital costs and new capital projects.”
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