Midtown public schools flush with fundrais­ing cash while oth­ers strug­gle

Par­ents in high-in­come ar­eas such as Lea­side are able to raise funds for play­ground im­prove­ments and iPads, whereas those in low-in­come ar­eas re­quire sig­nif­i­cant help

Annex Post - - NEWS - — Macken­zie Pat­ter­son

Fundrais­ing has be­come an in­creas­ingly important source of in­come for Toronto’s public schools. This has led to a large dis­par­ity be­tween schools in high-in­come ar­eas and those in low-in­come ar­eas, where stu­dents’ par­ents may not be able to con­trib­ute as much.

For the 2015–2016 school year, Bess­bor­ough Drive Ele­men­tary and Mid­dle School in Lea­side amassed $207,265 through fundrais­ing, whereas Thorn­cliffe Park Public School raised $41,071, Greno­ble Public School in Flem­ing­don Park mus­tered $36,236, and Flem­ing­ton Public School in Lawrence Heights was only able to raise $4,485.

Robyn Is­rael, chair of the school coun­cil at Bess­bor­ough Drive Ele­men­tary, said they hold fundrais­ing events such as pizza par­ties, fun fairs and even ax­ethrow­ing events with silent auc­tions, drinks and food.

“In the very be­gin­ning of the year, we get a collection of wants and needs from the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the teach­ers and the par­ents. So we could fundraise any­where be­tween 50 and 80 thou­sand dol­lars, de­pend­ing on the needs,” she said.

In past years, Bess­bor­ough’s fundrais­ers’ pro­ceeds have been put to­ward equip­ment such as iPads, Smart Boards, lap­tops and ro­botic and mi­cro­scopic equip­ment to go with it. Last year, the school put in a new play­ground for the kinder­gart­ners us­ing money raised at a fundraiser.

“The teach­ers wanted more in­ter­ac­tive play for our kinder­gart­ners, so last year we put in a sand­box and some plant­ings, flower beds, out­door chalk­boards. I do know how much we raised, but I don’t know if I’m com­fort­able say­ing that amount. It is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily high dol­lar amount,” Is­rael said.

The Ele­men­tary Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario (ETFO) ar­gues school fundrais­ing dis­par­i­ties are symp­to­matic of a pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that has been un­der­funded for nearly 20 years.

Su­san Swack­ham­mer, vice- pres­i­dent of the ETFO, said the ed­u­ca­tional fund­ing for­mula has made fundrais­ing of prime im­por­tance to Toronto schools.

“I went from teach­ing at a school in an up­per-mid­dle-class area that made $30,000 a year from fundrais­ing to an in­ner-city school that made $2,200. So you’re not going on trips, and you’re not buy­ing Smart Boards or iPads,” Swack­ham­mer said. “Back when I be­gan my teach­ing ca­reer, fundrais­ing bought stick­ers and stamps, but now that fundrais­ing is actually nec­es­sary to keep the school run­ning. It’s crazy.”

It’s becoming more and more com­mon for par­ent coun­cils in af­flu­ent ar­eas to rally funds for larger school projects. Al­lenby Ju­nior Public School raised $100,000 in 2015 for a new turf field, and Earl Beatty Public School near Danforth Av­enue has re­cently done the same.

Brown Public School in Casa Loma part­nered with the Whole Foods at Yorkville Vil­lage to help fund a com­mu­nity gar­den ini­tia­tive. On Sept. 20, five per cent of all gro­cery sales was do­nated to the school’s gar­den pro­ject.

Dim­i­tra Kap­pos, chair of the Brown Ju­nior Public School par­ent coun­cil said the pro­ject con­sists of 80 to 100 milk crates filled with plants and veg­eta­bles, and ex­pects to raise ap­prox­i­mately $5,000 through the Whole Foods cam­paign.

“We have so many dif­fer­ent ini­tia­tives that we have at the school, hav­ing some­body like Whole Foods step up … eases the bur­den on other fundrais­ing that we do to actually fo­cus on dif­fer­ent things,” she said.

Swack­ham­mer said that, al­though there’s an ob­vi­ous dis­par­ity in terms of fundrais­ing across the GTA, it’s not some­thing that can be so eas­ily cor­rected.

“It’s a very con­tentious thing be­cause I can tell you, if I were to go to the com­mu­nity that raised $30,000 and say you have to split that equally with the other schools, you can imag­ine what the re­sponse would be,” she said.

However, some schools have suc­cess­fully part­nered with oth­ers in less af­flu­ent ar­eas to help con­trib­ute to the pot.

Bess­bor­ough Drive Ele­men­tary do­nates a por­tion of the money it fundraises to the Em­power Read­ing pro­gram for two Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools in lower-in­come ar­eas. The pro­gram costs $5,000, and Bess­bor­ough holds a sep­a­rate fundraiser each year for this rea­son. Last year, the school do­nated the pro­gram to Flem­ing­don Park and Vic­to­ria Park schools.

Shari Schwartz-Maltz, spokesper­son for the TDSB, said the board also aims to level the play­ing field through pro­grams such as Model Schools, which do­nates funds to schools in the GTA for ex­tras like field trips, guest speak­ers and iPads.

The TDSB has iden­ti­fied 150 “model schools,” de­ter­mined by its Learn­ing Op­por­tu­ni­ties In­dex, which takes into ac­count a number of cen­sus in­for­ma­tion points such as ed­u­ca­tion and in­come in each area.

Flem­ing­ton P.S. was number four on the list and re­ceived $15,407 of fund­ing for the 2015–2016 school year.

The ETFO re­cently pro­posed seven rec­om­men­da­tions on how to fix the cur­rent fund­ing sys­tem, dubbed Short­chang­ing On­tario’s Stu­dents: An Over­view and Assess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing in On­tario. The ETFO hired economist Hugh Macken­zie to pre­pare the re­port.

“You can’t solve the prob­lem of grow­ing in­equal­ity from fundrais­ing by ad­dress­ing fundrais­ing. You can only ad­dress the prob­lem by ad­dress­ing the rea­sons why the fundrais­ing is ex­plod­ing in the first place,” Macken­zie said.

“All of the data tells us that there are more chil­dren liv­ing in poverty in the public ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in On­tario now than there were in 2002. The data tells us that there are more chil­dren with spe­cial needs and the sys­tems need more spe­cial sup­port for stu­dents whose first lan­guage isn’t English. And yet the fund­ing isn’t grow­ing It’s shrink­ing.”

At Flem­ing­ton P.S. more than 60 per cent of stu­dents have a pri­mary lan­guage other than English.

Macken­zie ar­gued the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment should be re­view­ing its fund­ing struc­ture ev­ery five years.

Swack­ham­mer said, de­spite ev­ery­thing, she’s op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of schools in On­tario.

“I’m hope­ful,” she said. “We’re com­ing up to a pro­vin­cial elec­tion in 2018. Maybe all the par­ties can have a look at what their plat­forms will be.”

Clock­wise from left: Bess­bor­ough Drive Ele­men­tary’s new play­ground that par­ents helped pay for, Al­lenby Ju­nior Public School’s new turf field and play­ground

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