School pools stay afloat for now

Swimming at Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate with his daughter Avereigh, Lenard Smith says pools shouldn't be shut down.Rashad Persaud, 8, was slowly putting his face into the water to overcome his fear.

An instructor patiently worked with him, gradually building confidence in the local boy and though he was scared, eventually he put his face in.

That’s the kind of progress Indira, Rashad’s mother, had been hoping for and why she put him in the swimming program hosted every Saturday morning at Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate.

Yet due to the Toronto school board’s planned funding cuts for 78 public school pools, Persaud has become concerned about whether there will be anywhere available for her son after this summer.

“If every school pool is shut down, I have to bring my son into a private gym or community pool,” she said. “But it will be much harder to get into them because many kids need swimming lessons [and they’ll be crowded].”

The board says despite some revenue from the city for 35 school pools that run parks and recreation programs, an additional $12 million is still missing for the annual maintenance and employment of workers.

Patricia Hodgins, principal of West Hill Collegiate, believes that as one of the 35 school pools used year around on day, night, and weekends, it should not be closed down.

“Swimming club members from Woburn C.I. also come to our pools to practice swimming,” Hodgins said. “Swimming gives more opportunity for kids to be involved in the community as well as physical education.”

All of the pools would likely be drained as early as the end of June or after summer, said Nadia Bello, a local trustree, depending on the age of each pool and unless the regular maintenance and repair fees are covered by the city or other levels of government.

It is expected pools in Etobicoke and downtown will be closed before the ones in Scarborough due to their condition.

“We should have access to the pool especially because money is already spent to build the pool,” says Rishi Maharaj, a student at Mowat. “Why not spend money to keep it and let people use it as well?

“It’s just waste of the space.”

Bello said the school board has used their ESL funding to support the budget for pools for years. Currently, however, they are reconsidering the budget allocation to use more ESL grants for the ESL programs.

“Nobody wants to see the pools closed because it’s important for the society and for people in the community,” Bello said. “But ESL programs are really necessary and ESL teachers should be employed.”

In order to appeal the necessity of funding from the government, Bello said the board is collecting data on how frequently the community and clubs were using the pools, as well as day and night use at each school.

On the other hand, the board plans to vote whether to cut 28 aquatic instructors among the current 107 from next year without clearly deciding whether they will close school pools.

“Hopefully, the school board will change their mind,” Indira said.