Parents push Ontario to solve overcrowding in schools

Overcrowding in Willowdale area public schools means that some parents have had to consider other options when it comes to their children's education.

Willowdale area parents say province isn't doing enough to address the population boom

Over crowded schools in the Willowdale area have forced Lu Sun to enrol her daughter, Natalie, into a Montessori school instead of into a public school. (CBC )

Overcrowding in Willowdale area public schools means that some parents have had to consider other options when it comes to their children's education.

Lu Sun's daughter, Natalie, was supposed to attend junior kindergarten this September, but nearby Churchill Public School was full.

"We are putting her in Montessori school right now. We're hoping to get her into senior kindergarten next year ... If you're in this area you're definitely affected by the overcrowding," said Sun.

Parents pack into a high school Monday night looking for answers to the over crowded schools in the Willowdale area. (CBC )

The issue was front of mind as concerned parents gathered in the cafeteria at Earl Haig Secondary School on Monday night to listen to and ask questions of education officials, including the Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter. 

The area, near Finch Avenue and Yonge Street, is one of the many spots in the city that has seen a population boom as Ontario pushes forward with its growth plan and densification increases. 

Parents say policies need to change

But the Toronto District School Board says it needs the province to rethink some of its building policies so that the board has money to address the influx of new students.

"One of the things that's missing in this equation is a sufficient amount of funding," said TDSB trustee Alexander Brown. "The board doesn't have access to the education development charge levies."

Those levies, said Brown, are fees the board could get from developers to expand capacity at schools in the area. Currently, the TDSB can't access these fees because all of its schools would have to be full and that's not the case.

"We don't meet the conditions because we have pockets in the city where schools are very much under-enrolled, under 65 per cent. Then we have areas like Willowdale where we're seeing this huge population growth driven mostly by residential development, which creates this huge inequity across the board," said Brown.

Province says new school coming

As the rules currently stand, even if the board could dip into those fees, it would only be able to purchase land, not expand existing schools.

Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter says the government will look into changing the rules around educational development charges after parents push for that during a Monday night meeting. (CBC )

Brown and parents alike pushed Hunter  to change the rules revolving around the education development charges (EDC).

"They were certainly persuasive and convincing when it come to looking at EDC as a potential solution," said Hunter.

The education minister says she's going to look at the current rules and the growth patterns in certain areas.  

To help deal with the surplus of students, Ontario is considering expanding McKee Public School and Hollywood Public School. It's also currently in the process of building a new facility in the area, Avondale Public School. 

Many parents, including Jenn Turner, think that may not be enough.

"It's great that we're getting a new school," said Turner, who has two children in the elementary level. "But that's one area, that's not going to solve all the problems for Willowdale."