“If parents knew in this election there is a prospect their school board could be run by a union, there would be outrage across the city,” parent Dan Lang says.
“The union is employed by the board. It’s a conflict of interest. It’s like developers buying councillors,” said Lillyann Goldstein, whose son attends Northern Secondary School.
But Jim McQueen, former head of the secondary teachers’ union Toronto local who is now running for trustee, said no union takeover is afoot.
“These people can make these accusations but unless they have some credible proof that the board is being taken over by the unions, it has to be rejected.”
While union backing of school trustees is not new in Toronto, politicians and parents on both sides say the move is more deliberate, and intense, in this election.
Those endorsed by the Campaign for Public Education — a union and parent coalition — are being accused of flouting board policies that prohibit campaigning on school property and vandalizing election signs.
The campaign, backed by the board’s support workers’ and teachers’ unions, has ads in community newspapers attacking some incumbents, including those who favoured balancing the board’s budget last month.
Those trustees, including Chair Sheila Ward, say they don’t have the deep pockets of unions to fight back. Nor do they have access to the board’s 35,000 unionized employees.
Ward said she — along with Trustees Howard Goodman, Gary Crawford, John Campbell, David Shory, Scott Harrison and Gerri Gershon — are worried voters who aren’t directly involved in the school system won’t know what to believe.
“A number of us are waking up in the middle of the night, wondering what to do and how to do it,” she said.
Anyone reading auditor Al Rosen’s 2002 report into the board’s bloated contracts would know that the takeover happened long ago. That, and the past conduct of trustees such as, oh, Sheila Ward, would suggest that many trustees were content with this state of affairs, until they ended up on the wrong side of the union endorsement list.
As I noted in August, during my summer walks home along the side streets of west-end Toronto, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every single street had a public school on it. When I consulted a map, I counted 22 schools in a square measuring 2 kilometres on each side. But you know what the great thing is about half-empty schools? They all need to be staffed, cleaned, maintained and repaired. That’s jobs for the boys, folks.
Despite two headline-making budget deficit crises in four years, the board has never tackled its cost structure, cut all programs that are not funded by the province, nor rationalized its stock of emptying schools. That’s why my stock response to anyone who complains about Mike Harris’s record on education is this: “He didn’t go far enough!” i.e. abolish school boards.
Given the current state of affairs, actually controlling the trustees would seem to be a mere formality. Time once again to link to my award-winning (no, really!) op-ed, “Take back our public services.”