Saving Bannockburn, Saving All Our TDSB Public & Green Spaces

May 7, 2014

Residents of northern Toronto, particularly those of Ledbury Park, are rightly fighting to save the green space at Bannockburn school in Ward 16, after the Toronto District School Board voted to sell a portion of the land.  Residents and partners oppose the severance and sale of the green space on two bases:  First, preservation of the field is essential to the health and enjoyment of children and other community members, in a part of the city where green spaces are sorely lacking.  Second, the absence of any real consultation by the TDSB prior to making the decision to sell the land demonstrates an apparent lack of concern for the residents and possibly, a breach of due process.

I unequivocally support the preservation of Bannockburn’s green space.  I will attend the May 14th hearing at the Committee of Adjustment in support of the community.  Bannockburn’s green space must be preserved for our children, for our community, and for our environment.

It is positive that both M.P.P. Michael Colle and mayoral candidate Karen Stintz support keeping Bannockburn’s green space green.

But to truly and permanently save Bannockburn’s green space —indeed to save any of the public spaces (be they schools that may be needed in the future or green spaces that are needed now) controlled by the TDSB– we must look beyond this terrible decision.  We must examine why the TDSB makes such controversial and potentially harmful decisions, and what can be done to address those underlying issues.  We must look beyond the TDSB.

Provincial policies and a lack of funding force the TDSB to sell off schools and property under its control.  When the TDSB makes these controversial and undesirable decisions, however, the provincial government allows the TDSB to take the heat, but has done little to change the policies that force the TDSB into such actions.  (Remember that the province can always buy the land and keep it green.)  To truly and permanently save Bannockburn Park and all the public and green spaces like it, we need the meaningful and earnest co-operation of the TDSB, residents, the provincial government and Toronto City Council.

According to the TDSB, Toronto has 12% of the student population in the Province of Ontario, but only receives 3% of the infrastructure funding.  Furthermore, the Province has told the TDSB that it will not increase core funding for infrastructure for TDSB until the TDSB has disposed of “surplus lands.”  Such surplus land is often found where schools are not currently in use by the public school board (though they may be in use by private schools, schools for special needs children, or cultural and arts-based schools, all of which pay rent to the TDSB.)

The Province has some legitimate reasons for ordering the TDSB to get its financial house in  order.  But the inevitable impact of such policies is proving to be harmful to our neighbourhoods.

Faced with a lack of schools in areas where there are large student populations, and with an aging school infrastructure that requires attention, as well as with a major shortfall in funding from the provincial government, the TDSB has looked at selling some of the properties under its control.  These decisions are almost always unpopular and controversial.  They often have a detrimental impact on the surrounding communities.  Furthermore, the TDSB has to ensure that it will not sell schools or property, which, in 10 or 20 years, might again be needed by the TDSB (because student populations will rise).  If it were to sell those schools now, and then need them in the future, when the land will cost much more, surely the TDSB would be blamed for mishandling its assets.

There is no question that the green space at Bannockburn must be preserved for our children, for our community, and for the future.

Saving it and other green spaces like it requires more than the TDSB’s backing off from selling such lands.  The provincial policy is forcing the TDSB into selling lands that are important to our communities.  Without sufficient funding and support from the Province and the City, we will be faced with two undesirable choices: decaying infrastructure and students who have to be bussed to their public schools, or the selling of green and other public spaces that are needed by communities now and may well be needed as public schools in the future.

The TDSB must withdraw its application to sever Bannockburn’s green space.

Our city council and our provincial government must sit with the TDSB and residents and come up with long-term solutions to address the needs of our children and our communities.  I am committed to working with the Province, the TDSB and residents to protect our green spaces, our children’s health, and the integrity of our schools.  As Councillor for the City of Toronto, I will advocate for us, our children, and our future, and will collaborate on preserving our green spaces.

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