Bluffs Advocate

Seek a Playground Sense of Justice

Secord Elementary School is left out of the big budget picture

By Peter Saros

           Laura Secord Elementary School has not had a fair shake for years. The school’s main building is old. The hallways and grounds exhale a certain tiredness that only comes with neglect. Anecdotal histories of alumni suggest portables were employed as early as one year after construction of the new building in 1964. A drawing of the school yard hanging outside the front office shows the school grounds still littered with portables in 1971. Today a permanent hallway connects 14 portables once-promised to be temporary -- now they are the oldest units still housing students in Toronto.
            When the renovations and new additions are finally completed at the overcrowded Secord Elementary School, the reasons for them are not going to come down to the hard metrics of a TDSB capital spending project, but rather, from a practical bit of Guy Clark poetry: a playground sense of justice.

Facility equity is what Secord is seeking.
            The school as a physical place – as a bricks and mortar building -- is uninspiring, which is a problem in a community where inspiration is too often in short supply. The United Way has identified it as a Priority Neighbourhood – one of thirteen in Toronto’s inner suburbs. This classification recognizes the lack of services within a community as a major barrier to opportunity to youth and newcomers.
           A chronically neglected and underfunded elementary school, largely populated by these same youth and recent immigrants to Canada, would seem to be a particularly cruel barrier for the TDSB and province to purposefully put before at risk families. But they do it, and they do it because they can. This population is an easy one to bully. It’s transient. They are not established, much less experienced in school, municipal, or provincial politics. There is really no significant blowback from unpopular decisions affecting this community. Budget cuts made here are almost painless and withoutblood - at least from the vivisectionist’s point of view.
           This community did what was required of it to address persistent problems at Secord: overcrowding, inadequate facilities, health and safety concerns. Ministry of Education promises to the tune of $30 million dollars of capital investment were made to Secord in June of 2012, and then those promises were broken and the money taken off the table.
           The entire situation just feels dirty and exploitive. Only a “playground sense of justice” can reconcile provincial political posturing, TDSB truculence, and resource scarcity.
           Secord does not have assets or land to sell. It doesn’t have a killer business plan. It’s not in bed with developers. Parents can’t be tapped for money to make up for funding shortfalls. Secord is not asking for elite athletic facilities or a state of the art auditorium. It wants a kitchen to accommodate its burgeoning nutrition program, its own lunchroom, and enough permanent classrooms to house its students.
           The Secord School Council has sent out petitions saying “It’s our turn,” asking that the TDSB recognize Secord as an investment priority, and the province release capital funding.
           It’s hard to argue with them.

Peter Saros is a co-chair of the Secord Elementary School School Council. He has two children who attend Secord.