Crises tend to bring out the worst in people

di Joe Volpe del March 19, 2020

TORONTO - What do you think will happen now that the tendency towards Emergency Powers is becoming the accepted norm in public governance? The same people who have been making questionable decisions under the public spotlight now do it without scrutiny. We’ll just have to trust them.

Ontario’s Minister of Education will have a pivotal role in the social reorganization of the province once the Covid-19 scare passes; and it will pass. Wash your hands with soap. Don’t kiss anyone. Stay away from anyone who is coughing – or just stay away from everybody. Don’t touch dirty surfaces or grimy individuals.

Would that everything were so simple. Public transit is no longer “the better way” and, with everything closed, where will one go once in the privacy of one’s own vehicle? You can’t congregate for entertainment, for worship, for shopping. Your children can’t go to school.

What do we think of “class sizes”, “pupil teacher ratios” and “e-learning” now? School Bus transportation may become a thing of the past as “home schooling” could emerge as a desirable option in the short and medium turn. With the emptying of schools, there will be so much surplus capacity, Minister Lecce may have to up some of that inventory for the emergency care space that will be needed by his Cabinet colleagues in the Health sector.

I am sure that Minister Lecce has already realized that the declaration of State of Emergency has e.ectively placed all school boards under his “supervision” – he has the authority to override Trustees’ decisions and expand the authority vested in the Director in any Board of Education, at least on an interim basis until the Education Act is restructured.

Education is a big business in this province. Lecce alone has jurisdiction over a Budget of $31 Billion, $1.2 of it for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB). Premier Ford may call upon him to start pruning the system so as to find underused resources. His government will need them to finance the fiscal measures it will have to enact to (1) deal with a health crisis whose dimensions appear limitless so far, and (2) revitalize an economy that appears to be headed for a complete crash.

The TCDSB is known as a “soft target”. It has not distinguished itself as fiscally responsible organization recently, nor does it seem to have implemented pedagogically sound strategies to improve the learning outcomes of the children under its care. Moreover, it has a dysfunctional governance structure, from a human personnel perspective.

For example, on March 12, the Corporate Services, Strategic Planning and Property Committee convened to deliberate on Sta. Reports dealing with (among other things) serious issues having to do with student projected enrollment, student allocation services, bus transportation. Some of these are dealt with behind closed doors, in Private session, for approval in Public session. I attended the first two and onehalf hours of the “public session” before the Board of Trustees returned to Private. A relatively minor, but significant cost item, issue of transporting students consumed an hour and one half of time. It had to be recessed for some ten minutes because trustee Rizzo had to prove a point: that she is capable of being obstructionist and obnoxious, in challenging the Chair on the minutest of details.

As a result, the Board was unable to address, publicly, the veracity of enrollment figures provided. Those numbers are crucial to the Budget process – fewer students, less funds from the Ministry. In fact, the sta. report alludes to a lower than anticipated enrolment of children from African immigrants.

On that score, there were no questions raised re the potential shut down of borders to VISA students and the impact that might have on and cash flow.

There are 1,140 VISA students expected for next year. Prudent planning would suggest that Federal government decisions regarding immigration in these di.cult times might impact seriously on that revenue stream, conservatively worth a minimum of $13, 680, 000 to the Board and an equivalent amount in potential accommodation fees to any of its partners.

Instead, Trustee Rizzo again consumed valuable deliberation time in trivializing a serious public health concern with her 28-point Notice of Motion, seconded by her sidekick – she who believes that asbestos and mold are actually pixie dust rather than toxic substances - regarding the “preventing the Spread of Covid-19”.

It might have made sense, were it not for the sobering intervention of the Director: “We are already doing 95 -98% of this.” Or for that matter, that the motion is so urgent that it would be discussed at the next sitting of the committee – next month. If this charade is allowed to continue, the responsibility will lie at Minister Lecce’s feet.


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