Last week, in the midst of debating local issues such as transit, homelessness and whether Coun. Rob Ford should be kicked out of the room, Toronto City Council spent several slow-moving hours debating something they have virtually no control over — the potential closure of dozens of Toronto District School Board schools that are currently underused.
It’s tempting to look at that council debate and get frustrated.
Because, seriously, why are municipal politicians considering an issue beyond municipal powers? Isn’t that just a giant waste of time?
Realistically, the most Mayor John Tory and council can do on the question of whether schools close is send a strongly worded letter. The real decision-making will be done by school trustees and the Ontario Ministry of Education.
But there’s another way to look at things.
Because behind that useless-seeming debate lie important questions about the way schools are governed in Ontario.
Questions like, hey, is it really right that the people elected to represent neighbourhoods don’t have a say over neighbourhood schools?
After all, those schools are more than just buildings where kids go to learn about math, Louis Riel and the flexed-arm hang. For communities, they’re also parks and playgrounds. They’re soccer and baseball fields. They’re daycare centres, meeting spaces and a place to take the dog.
And the decisions councillors make are often inextricably tied to those schools.
New developments are approved based on assumptions about available classroom capacity. Roads and traffic regulations hinge on kids getting places in time for the opening bell. Community centres and youth programs are designed to serve nearby schools.
In that light, it seems almost impossible to separate the issues related to running schools from the issues related to running the city. But our current governance model is set up to maintain separation between the two.
It may be time those walls start to come down.
That doesn’t mean that some underused schools shouldn’t close. Some should.
And some should be transferred to the city government to become other public spaces.
Nor does it mean that the mayor and city councillors should get to meddle with school curriculum.
All it means is that school governance needs some reform — and that those reforms should include a closer relationship with the people making community-level decisions at city hall.
There was a small motion passed at last week’s Toronto council meeting that may serve as a good start. Off a push from Coun. Josh Matlow, council approved the creation of a City-School Boards Advisory Committee. It’ll be a more formal place where school trustees and councillors can talk about shared issues.
It’s a small thing, but it could be an important step toward building better connections between schools and city government — connections that will, with any luck, prove educational.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2015/02/16/the-separation-between-the-tdsb-and-city-government-doesnt-make-any-sense.html on 2015-02-17T00:00:00.000Z