Russ Ford's Blog

Save Vincent Massey; Save Our Governments From Themselves



Have you ever been in a situation  which something so irrational, so wrong is being presented as rational.  Where something that is  not in anyone`s interest is seen as something that is inevitable, beyond anyone`s ability  to stop.

Well I and about 200 parents who have children at the Vincent Massey Day Care  Centre had that experience this week when Board of Education officials told us  they are planning to sell the building that houses their day care.   The centre currently has an enrollment of 180 children of which 100 are on subsidy.  They are now all faced with the possible loss of  care.

To be fair,  the Board officials were merely the messengers, not the perpetrators .  The Toronto Board has tried valiantly to save its assets from going to the market. The decision to  sell this and other schools  comes from the Ministry of Education.  Surplus properties must be sold off at market value and if they are not, the ministry will take over the functions of the school board.  We do elect  the  school board.   We do not elect  staff at the Ministry of Education.

 Most of the school sites have now been sold but a few like Vincent Massey remain.  One has to wonder  how the board will balance its budget once it has dismembered itself by selling off all surplus schools.  Simply put, how is this a sustainable approach to the board`s fiscal needs.

Board officials said this is the result of the new funding formula that was implemented by  the Mike Harris government.  While Harris  did much to undermine our educational system, blaming him for the closure of Vincent Massey  is just silly.  There has been sufficient time to replace the funding formula that has resulted in millions of dollars leaving the Toronto school system and going to Queen`s Park.  We have had three premiers since then. The current one  was a member of the Toronto Board when Harris was in power and who fought against this very funding formula.

While the government can hide behind the funding formula or in this case force the Board of Education to do its bidding, the obvious question is how does this fit with  the provincial and the city`s funding priorities and plans.  Well it does not.

Go to the website of the  Ministry of Children and Youth services and it talks about the government`s commitment to affordable and high quality child care.  With 100 subsidized spots,  Vincent Massey  certainly meets the definition of  affordable. 

If you go to the City of Toronto's web site and look up Children's Services you will read the same type of rhetoric.  You will also find quality control ratings for all of the day cares that receive city funding.  According to the City, Vincent Massey is a day care of the highest quality.  So both governments are committed to affordable, high quality day care yet the province is closing such a day care centre and the city is sitting on its hands watching it happen.

This is what I call the vortex of government.  Governments work in silos, there is little or no coordination and if a  situation occurs that is  outside of the norm, irrationality takes over.  Doing what is right is not the concern, following the rules is the prime directive.

The Ministry of Education has no mandate or interest in providing child care.  That is not their job and they are the only Ministry at the table.  The Ministry that needs to be there, the Ministry of Children and Youth services is not there because Education sees this as  just another real estate matter.
 
Some of the children will find care elsewhere.  Infants can be moved  but not school age children.  They need to be located close to their school.  Many parents with school age children will find themselves going into the unregulated home day care system which is a real crap shoot.  So much for our governments and their commitment to quality care.

The direction of the city has always been to equalize subsidy spaces across the city.  At the moment Ward  6, where Vincent Massey is located,  has five more subsidized spaces than it should.  Closure of Vincent Massey will mean that ward 6 will immediately become a minus 95. I would assume this  makes it one of the poorest  served parts of the city.

The city`s says it has no money. Nonsense. It is not  question of money, it is a question of priorities.  Personally, I believe the interests of our children should be at or near the top of any government priority list.

To illustrate this we only have to go back a few weeks  to the decision to fund a subway in Scarborough rather than go with a fully funded LRT. That decision cost the city $910 million which includes $85 million that has already been spent on the LRT.  Money completely flushed away.

The Scarborough debate was described as a debate between subways vs. LRTs.  It was that but it was much more.  It defined the city`s financial priorities. A  three stop subway extension won out over human service enhancements like child care centres .  That is what was really on the line.

But there is still hope for the children at Vincent Massey and it comes in the form of the city`s annual budget surplus.
By statute the City cannot run a financial deficit.

Every year when it prepares its budget  it overestimates its expenditures and under estimates its revenues.  As a result the City has hundreds of millions of operating surplus at the end of the year while crying poor all year long.  Council usually takes credit saying it shows how good they are in managing the city`s money.  Nonsense.  The process is designed to provide a surplus at year`s end.

So solutions do exist and they are really not all that hard.  The provincial government needs to save itself from its own bureaucratic restraints.  It has to get the two ministries working together so the actions of Education are no longer in direct conflict with the desires of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services  and the needs of the residents of South Etobicoke.

Failing that the city simply needs to step up.  It has or will have the money once the fiscal year end surplus is made available.  There will be less because of the Scarborough subway decision but still enough so  that choices will have to be made.  Should we fix a road; put the money in the reserve fund or fund Vincent Massey.

This should not be  difficult decision.  Supporting Vincent Massey is entirely consistent with  the stated directions of the city.  But like the province I fear the city will also have to be protected from itself.  This is the last budget surplus before the next city election and therefore disbursements will even be more political.  We can only hope that doing the right thing is not lost to political expediency.
 
 

Comments

Save Vincent Massey

Whether Vincent Massey is in need of repairs or not, the owners were never given a chance to do anything before hearing the news. My two children attend this day care and if closed I will have to quit my job since wait lists in the area run at length and some over 2 yrs wait. With that being said, I'm sure others will be in the same situation as well as the many staff members that work there and have been a part of my childrens daily routine for many years and I'm hoping many years to come. The daycare, staff, and community vibe around Vincent Massey are incredible and I hope to be a part of that facility in the future. Save Vincent Massey!!!!

Take a look

It is of course, very important to support care centres in our community but at the cost of our children's health and safety? With so many repairs needed on an old building I find it surprising that so many people are taken aback by what is happening.

@Take a look. What repairs

@Take a look. What repairs are "needed" on this old building that make it a threat to the children's health and safety? The building is in good repair, including the new boiler that was installed last year.

The building is in good repair.

The cost of repairs to the building is not anywhere near what is being communicated. The building is in remarkably good condition, with minimal repairs needed in the near future. It has been well maintained, with many upgrades made. It is not in wrecking ball condition and deserves to be preserved as a historic and much used facility.

Vincent Massey School

I know parents who rely on this effective and efficient day care. We would lose a huge community asset if this idea was implemented. We can't afford to cut our such programs when there is no will to set up a universal day care system which would benefit all parents and their children. The collateral damage of selling off school property needs to be factored into these ideas about selling "redundant" and "surplus" facilities. What is the social cost in making decisions of this type?

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