Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Cars in Every Garage and A Pool in Every School

I was not what you'd call an athletic kid when I was in elementary school. Rather, I was the one who'd poke around the spinning bookshelves during slow times in class, sit on a bench all recess, and spend the evening playing Nintendo after jumping off the bus. Now that I have a fuller understanding of how difficult it is to turn around habits firmly established in childhood, I think there is an important place for physical education in the school system. Just because I was a lump didn't mean gym class still wasn't fun; there was a network of boxy, concrete storage rooms known collectively as "the bomb shelter" under the gym itself, and games like Zach's "nettball" were fun and energetic distractions from actual schoolwork.

I grew up in Barrie, a city on the very northern fringe of the Greater Toronto Area, but which is in reality a town of 30,000 people with suburbs for 90,000 more inexpertly stapled to its ragged edges. Our complaints with the Simcoe County School Board were confined essentially to the unnecessarily expensive elegance of their headquarters, hidden away in a Midhurst forest, and the fact that the air conditioning systems for all the schools were remotely controlled from that central office. What we never complained about was a lack of pools.

Since moving to Toronto, one of the regular stories I've noticed in the media's rotation is the Toronto District School Board mulling over whether to close school pools to bring its budget under control. This is always - surprise! astonishment! - opposed by the union representing Toronto's school teachers, CUPE 4400. The union put out a press release yesterday criticizing the TDSB for, among other potential terminations, gearing up to shutter thirty-nine school pools "to avoid a deficit of just about 1%" of its budget.

"Every year we go through the same fight," the union's president said in the release. Every year I hear about the tragedy and horror of Toronto's schoolchildren not having access to pools. Every year I hear this and I wonder -- why? Why is it so important, so vital, that Toronto schools have pools?

My classes included some swimming from time to very occasional time, and when it was necessary to toss a pack of Grade 5s into the water, we would all trek up the streets to the local YMCA. Other times, we would load up a bus and make our way down to the Allandale Recreation Centre, home of what must've been the biggest pools in Barrie. These were dedicated areas, focused on maintaining pools in good quality, and what they did was worth it.

It's my own belief that organizations should focus on what they're best at. Despite the budget problems of last year, the City of Toronto still operates dozens of public pools throughout the city. Why should it be a school's job to maintain pools when that money could go toward hiring more teachers or buying new textbooks or educational equipment? This is something I've never understood.

I can understand why the union would raise hell about the possibility of its members being thrown out of a job, particularly in this kind of economic climate. Realistically, though, I can't see any reason why schools should be in the pool business to begin with. There's no shortage of pools in schools listed on the City of Toronto Parks and Rec department's website - if that's the case, it should be the City's responsibility to maintain them, and not the board of education.

As a non-parenthetical aside, the transpiring frood known as Tesseract has started up his own weblog, Screaming Through Static. I offer you the possibility of reading it to see what he comes up with.

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