Ping Pong International Languages Programme

di Joe Volpe del January 31, 2019

TORONTO - Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) Chair, Maria Rizzo, is reminiscent of the childhood story about the little boy who cried wolf.

It seems only yesterday that she and the then Chair, Michael Del Grande, were doing their obstructive best to end the extended- day International Languages Programme (ILP).

Now she wants people to focus their attention on the merits (educational, social and cultural) of the programme in the academic life of students entrusted to the care of the TCDSB and other Boards.

The largest number of students registered for the ILP is in the study of the Italian language. This does not preclude any others. In fact, if anything, the Italian Community plays a leadership role in the expansion of the programme.

In 2014-2015, the issue was that there was a shortfall of some $300,000 in the Special Education business line under which the programme was/is delivered.

The York Region Catholic District School Board subsequently used a similar argument in its e.orts to also cut the programme. Both squeezed additional funds from Italian authorities, through their partner/ally, the Centro Scuola e Cultura Italiana (CSCI), now functioning primarily as travel agency delivering credit courses in Italy to Canadian students.

CSCI is satisfied to provided off-site and off-hours instruction (for a fee, of course); it’s good business. The other pressure for elimination of the ILP came from the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers Union (TECT), or at least from the whinging of some of their membership.

The ILP would involve extending the instructional day by 20-30 minutes in schools where it is o.ered. The result was/is that teachers in those schools (44 of them) would have to be on site for that additional time (free to do prep etc.).

Apparently, that is too much to ask; even if the Education Act requires all teachers to be on the site 15 before and 15 minutes after the eNd of the instructional day.

They filed grievances for breaches of the Collective Agreement. An Arbitrator, Russell Goodfellow, agreed with them and in the Spring of 2018, ordered the TCDSB to cancel the programme.

Under pressure by some Trustees who didn’t see the logic in firing some 70 ILP teachers, the TCDSB determined to conduct a “survey” of the schools and parents as to the acceptability of ILP.

Some Trustees, Chair Rizzo included, were endorsed by the self-serving TECT in their preparation for the ensuing election. Premier Ford, newly elected was asked to intervene personally.

He in turn engaged his Minister, Lisa Thompson. They gave the programme a one-year reprieve, pending the outcome of the survey and TCDSB negotiations with its myopic TECT.

Now, Chair Rizzo is looking for support because the Premier is threatening the elimination of the programme as part of his cost-cutting programme.

The tab has risen to $5.2 million. I attended the Board meeting last Thursday.

Kinga Surma, MPP for Etobicoke Centre, spoke about the merits of the programme and her personal commitment to maintain it. That is encouraging, but at this stage, she may be alone in government. Chair Rizzo, meanwhile, is not casting about for support from TECT whose commitment to education is measured only by dollars and the clock.

I used to be guided by a punch clock and a foreman when I laboured in a factory. It is how my employer measured efficiency and effectiveness.

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