Letter to Ontario Minister of Education and Training,
John Snobelen

Miriam Garfinkle
March 4, 1997

The Honorable John Snobelen
Minister of Education and Training
Presented at the Toronto Board of Education
March 4, 1997

Dear Mr. Snobelen,

My name is Dr. Miriam Garfinkle. I am a physician practising in downtown Toronto. I am a product of the Toronto Public Schools and have two children presently attending Huron Street Public school in Toronto. Firstly, I would like to thank the Toronto Board of Education for giving me an opportunity to voice my concerns about Bill 104 and the wide–sweeping changes occurring in education in Ontario. I was one of about 1,000 people who asked to speak to Bill 104 at Queen’s Park but was denied the opportunity.

The actions of your government have made us all take a good look at what we have taken for granted for many years in Ontario and have forced us to stand up for the things we value most — a caring society with quality universal public education system. In Toronto particularly, we have a large percentage of immigrant children and children living in poverty and we value our current Board’s abilities to deal with this situation so positively, effectively and humanely. I think we all realize that these things are costly but that these things take precedent over such schemes as tax cuts which tend to benefit the more privileged.

At Huron Street Public School many of us have been meeting since the fall to find ways to express our concerns about impending proposed cuts to education. We have been writing letters, meeting with our local MPP, Ms Bassnett and have prepared a petition with almost 200 signatures from the parents of our school to present to the legislature asking for no further cuts to education. We see ourselves as a school community — parents, teachers, educational assistants, principal, vice–principal, office staff, caretakers — all working together in the interests of the education and safety of our children within the context of larger community. At Huron we try and reach out to the community at large as well. For example, the children and staff work to raise money for anti–poverty programs and the Save–the–Children Fund. We receive the children from our local women’s shelter and give them special support. It’s a give and take part of learning to be a citizen in our society. Your government’s vision of privatization would have us so busy fundraising for our own basics and pit one community against another. We would lose this larger context of community entirely.

I would like to comment on your vision of parent councils and the meagre pay of trustees. Legislating voluntarism is an oxymoron. (I’m not sure of how one can do this logistically speaking anyway.) Voluntarism arises out of a sense of community. Parents have always been committed to a high level of voluntarism. Go to any local hockey arena with its volunteer coaches or go to a city–wide swim meet at McCormick Recreation Centre. You will see dozens of people volunteering their time because of a sense of caring for the kids. In the school there have always been parent volunteers who continue to do so in spite of the increased complexities of their lives.

Legislating volunteers attracts a different type of person who is there for a different reason — with a preconceived agenda, hidden or open. You also only get a person with financial resources or else someone is willing to try and “do it all” and ends up having a nervous breakdown. Who suffers? Their kids! Yes, we want parent involvement but do I want parents making decisions about issues that educators spend years debating?

There is also the big problem of representation. We have seen examples of this at our own school. How does a small group of parents represent the larger? Do they run on a political platform beforehand? How are they accountable?

I would also like to speak strongly about the proposal for outsourcing. My principal and vice–principal have made some very important points on the implications of this on the safety of the school and community continuity. They point out that “our school is not a business and we do not have clients nor do we trade in commodities. Our school is a vital part of the community and we have community members in it from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. We all need to feel that our school is safe and works as one. Out sourcing our support personnel is not conductive to a safe school environment.”

It’s true that we want it all. We want proper accountability and democratic process. We want music, J.K., educational assistants, psychological support staff, decent classroom sizes, heat, light, textbooks and librarians. And we want it for all children of Ontario.

Let’s be creative, not destructive. We have a great basis. Let’s build from here. Your government seems determined in the name of “fiscal responsibility” to undermine all we value, all that makes is work as a society and holds us together.

Mr. Snobelen, if you want to continue to be the leaders of this province I think you should take heed to what we are saying — we will continue to be heard. We are a special interest group — the citizens of Ontario.

Yours truly,

Miriam Garfinkle