Councillors ponder pool rescue

Toronto District School Board trustees have voted to defer a decision on 26 school pools until its regular June meeting, granting at least a temporary reprieve to seven pools scheduled for closure and 19 more already on probation.

A few days earlier, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the province would provide capital funding to help keep school pools open – and many Torontonians breathed a sigh of relief. City councillor John Parker of Don Valley West was one of them.

But while he applauds the provincial government’s efforts, Parker doesn’t necessarily believe maintaining the pools should become Queen’s Park’s financial duty.

“I think it’s exactly the right position for the province to take,” Parker said. “I think it’s fair for them to bring the pools up to a good condition, but frankly I don’t see their ongoing operation as a provincial responsibility.”

Instead, he sees it as a municipal responsibility.

“I think the pools serve the residents of Toronto,” Parker said, “and it’s appropriate that the residents of Toronto be expected to finance their ongoing operation.”

Parker said the question now revolves around how to deal with the transition of the funding system school boards used to operate under to the system they have now.

He explained the school boards in Toronto used to receive a substantial component of its funding from the property tax base. And because Toronto provided that tax base to the school board, it was able to use school funding to finance operations such as the maintenance of swimming pools.

“The process for financing school boards has changed,” Parker said. “There’s no longer funding available for the school boards to maintain and operate swimming pools.”

Those operating costs are exactly what councillor Janet Davis of Beaches-East York sees as the missing link to the final solution to school pool funding.

“Capital money is definitely needed because many of the school pools – including the 33 the city uses – are not in good shape,” she said. “However… I think there is still some funding yet to be identified on the operating side.”

Davis added that the city is already funding 100 per cent of the operating costs for the 33 city pools and it can’t afford to cover the schools’ as well. Though the province is willing to put forward some capital funding, she says she won’t get excited until some actual figures are given.

“There have been rumours that they were going to announce some capital money for a week now,” she said. “It’s not a surprise that there has been some sort of announcement, but we don’t have any details.”

Parker is also skeptical, but he aims his criticism at the city.

“I thought all along that this was a problem that needed to be addressed,” he said. “I think the city has been ducking the issue ever since (the funding restructuring).”

Though Parker partly blames the poor restructuring of funding of school boards by the provincial government, he believes the province has done Toronto a huge favour.

“I really can’t say that the province owes the residents of Toronto an ongoing obligation to maintain our swimming pools for us,” Parker said. “That’s not expected of the province in any other municipality, and I don’t see that Toronto has any special claim on provincial assistance in that area either.

“That’s just not what a provincial government should be responsible for.”