Education Action: Toronto

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Bill 177 Sets Off "Insane" Showdown

by Dudley Paul

It looks like TDSB Chair Bruce Davis and Trustee Josh Matlow have managed to settle their differences without blood or tears. Matlow has avoided possible censure from the board, but there are still some worthwhile questions to be asked now that seas have a calmed a bit.

Matlow ran afoul of the board and Davis, when he told a Toronto Sun reporter last Wednesday that its decision to spend $345,000 on a one-day teachers’ conference next September was “insane”. He added, “ (t)he TDSB has told parents they’re going to have to close schools and cut support staff and shut down youth-at-risk programs because they don’t have enough money. To turn around and go on a drunken spending binge is shameful.”

Sounds like a fair comment. The conference, part of TDSB Director Chris Spence’s Vision of Hope looks like a way to get out his message of supporting “learning for all, ” a little ironic considering the atmosphere of cutbacks and school closing that attends it. Neither elementary nor secondary teachers unions were asked if they wanted to attend a conference at the beginning of the year and don’t support it. Teachers would rather be getting ready to teach. Then there is the question of stuffing 19 000 of them into a conference centre so they can watch – well, sort of – some talking heads. Isn’t there is a better way to deliver some professional development?

The problem is that Matlow made his remarks after the Board voted to spend this money. What he said didn’t transgress the board’s code of conduct, which admonishes trustees to express a “differing opinion in a respectful and honest manner without making disparaging remarks or references about other board members”, though Chairman Davis pointed out that a trustee must not denigrate the board or bring it into disrepute.

Matlow’s error apparently was to cross Bill 177 , that recently became part of the Education Act . Among many diktats, it requires trustees to “ uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board.” Indeed, what Trustee Matlow said was not very supportive of the board’s decision and Chairman Davis cited the bill when he was about to censure Matlow for refusing to apologize for his comments.

By criticizing the board’s vote, Matlow was doing exactly what he was elected to do – questioning a decision to spend money on a dubious purpose, at a bad time of year, when the board is in the process of deciding which schools to close and which programs to cut. It is fundamental – though apparently contrary to Bill 177 – that an elected body merits scrutiny and criticism. The board isn’t above reproach.

And what about those schools? I attended a meeting at Shoreham P.S. last Tuesday as parents met to grapple with the distinct possibility that this local school would be closed and its students moved next door to Brookview Middle School. Most students in this Jane and Finch neighbourhood would get shuffled. Students from Brookview’s feeder schools would return to home schools that would be switched from Kindergarten to Grade 8 though they don’t have the facilities to provide appropriate programs for the older students.

The $345 000 that would go to this one-off professional activity day would not change circumstances for the parents and students of Shoreham but when you look at what they have to lose, it speaks loudly of a board and its director who have both awful timing and a case of detachment from the students, parents and neighborhoods they represent.

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