NEWS March 5th, 2002

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Parents launch public advocacy program over education cuts

Commercials to highlight the crisis education system is facing

Concerned parents from Moore Park, Forest Hill and Rosedale have dug deep into their own pockets putting together a campaign, they hope, will pressure the provincial government into not further eroding the education system.

Concerned Parents of Toronto recently unveiled a public advocacy campaign telling parents throughout the GTA to "make your voice heard now." Starting Feb. 18, a series of 30-second television spots began airing and will continue to do so for about the next 12 weeks, spotlighting the critical condition the public education system is in, and where it is heading.

"The implications of the education cuts that are coming reach far beyond the education system," said Paige Cowan, who owns a boutique on Mt. Pleasant Rd., and is the mother of two boys attending Whitney Public School.

"Basically our group feels that we are headed toward a two-tiered system, where there are schools in Midtown Toronto, North Toronto and Rosedale and in Forest Hill, that can afford to fund raise and blanket the fact that there are problems with the funding formula, but at the same time there are schools in Toronto and Ontario that can’t do that."

"You have a Rosedale public school with one kind of playground and (Rose) school (on Ontario St.), who isn’t that much further down the way, with a completely different situation and so part of it is feeling a responsibility to say ‘this is not fair, it really isn’t.’ I think we’re already there, but if some people aren’t willing to accept that, they better recognize that we’re heading there. If there are further cuts coming, that’s the direction we are heading."

The timing of the campaign coincides with a critical time faced by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), as budget talks kicked off Feb. 20, with an eye to finalizing it in April. Accompanying those budget talks will be public meetings open to interested parents and as well, the provincial government will be looking at education funding in March as part of their general legislative grants.

Since 1998 the TDSB has had $268 million cut from their budget with orders from the Conservative government to further slash another $150 million by next year.
The ads, financed by the group through a grassroots fundraising campaign, focus in on those numbers and are aimed at showing that the system is in jeopardy, using a leaky roof and buckets collecting rain water, as the analogy.

"We believe that it delivers the message in a metaphorical sense," said Cowan. "One of the commercials is about maintenance and basically the metaphor is if we don’t take care of this, the roof is going to fall in.’ It gets the message across in a literal sense, but also in the larger sense that there’s going to be a big mess to clean up if the cuts continue."

The coalition, which is reaching out to parents’ groups across the city, was prompted into action when education assistance cuts were announced last spring. Parents of children at Brown and Whitney Public Schools felt compelled to speak out against those cuts, only to find the decision was actually made long before any announcement.

"We were attempting to fight it and then basically what we realized was that we were too late, that the cuts had already been made, that’s how the group finally realized that we have to stop being so reactionary, because every time something would come up we’d try and rally people and then we’d find out it’s too late, the decisions were made a year before," said Cowan.

"What we decided to do was form a group that was proactive instead of reactive, and that we would go to the trustees and make demands, as opposed to responding to things that had already gone down."

Following the campaign will be a lead-up to the next provincial election. The plan of the group is to make sure that education is a priority issue, and that Ontarians pressure the individual leaders and their parties to make sure it stays that way.