A New Task Force Aims to Bring City Councillors, School Officials to the Table
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A New Task Force Aims to Bring City Councillors, School Officials to the Table

Relations between the City and its school boards haven't always been warm, but a new task force hopes to change that.

A new task force will bring some order to the City Hall’s dealings with Toronto’s school boards, if the man behind the idea has his way. Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), who first proposed the task force in May 2012, says the initiative is going ahead and that it needs to get off the ground “as soon as possible.”

The task force, approved by council last month, will expire in 2014. The hope is that it will, in the meantime, find ways of bringing some formality to the City’s dealings with school officials—particularly when it comes to issues of shared concern, such as the ways Toronto’s school boards use, sell, and redevelop their land.

The task force will consist of as many as six council members and six trustees from Toronto’s school boards. Matlow says the group is needed to hammer out decisions about common priorities, such as community hubs, school pools, childcare, and recreation.

Currently, various City divisions work with the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and both French-language school boards on an ad hoc basis. According to Matlow, this framework has led to a lack of coordination. (Matlow represented the Toronto riding of St. Paul’s on the Toronto District School Board from 2003 until his election to city council in 2010.)

Matlow says the school boards are “very enthusiastic” and that two have already appointed trustees to represent them. It’s expected that the City will appoint members to the task force once city council’s summer break is over.

Historically, City Hall and Toronto’s school boards haven’t always worked well together.

“There is a history of conflict and competition between the City and the school boards, so it is hoped this formal structure will end that,” Matlow says. He adds that he’d like to use the forum as a springboard for conversations on how best to utilize school properties.

“I believe schools could be used for the good of the community around them, and to tackle issues such as youth violence and senior isolation,” he says. “We need more community hubs, to give people access to employment and recreation.”

According to Matlow, for young people living in “quasi-ghettos,” a community-integrated school could mean the difference between becoming part of a gang or not.

Matlow contends that older people could use schools for evening classes and continuing education courses, or as meeting places.

The working group only has until the end of council’s term in 2014 to make recommendations.

“We have limited time here,” Matlow admits. “Next year is an election year.”