The “Wizards at TDSB” want to bribe kids with cash

Well, I thought I had heard everything that was politically correct. Yet, yesterday I read a column by Moira MacDonald in the Toronto Sun (H/T Catherine) about how officials at the Toronto District School Board are waxing lyrical about providing kids from disadvantaged homes cash incentives to read books. MacDonald also mentioned that the TDSB is considering giving some parents cash as well, to attend workshops and get a library card.

My immediate reaction was: What an offensive idea! Make poor kids feel worse about themselves by labelling them disadvantaged or stupid. Not only offensive, but magical thinking at its worst.  Which made me think of the theme song from Wizard of Oz and wonder who the wizards might be behind the screen at the TDSB who think they can get results by bribing kids who are “disadvantaged,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Poverty itself, or making do on less, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether kids want to learn or parents value education.

However, no matter whether or not you believe cash incentives might work, what are the powers that be at the TDSB thinking when they are so deeply in the financial hole? For details, check out a MacDonald column dated May 28th, 2010 but updated online today. When you read it, it becomes clear that TDSB decision-makers really are living in a fantasy land. Here are the facts.

This year the TDSB had a deficit of $42 million dollars. To deal with some of that deficit, they transferred $30 million from major repair projects, thus adding to their $2.8 billion deferred maintenance plan. They then increased this year’s budget by $600 million, in spite of the fact that student enrollment had dropped by 13.4%. I repeat, the TDSB trustees budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars more — and hired more teachers even though enrollment was dropping like a stone, they already had a huge deficit and repairs to infrastructure would have to be delayed again.

Look, I am not unsympathetic. I grew up poor, as did many of my friends and relatives. But, we sure didn’t need to be given cash by the school system to bribe us to want to do well in life. We did whatever we had to do to get ahead.  No, this whole issue is simply about political correctness and the wizards at the TDSB pulling levers in a futile attempt to change social and cultural attitudes by bribing kids and their parents with cash — cash the TDSB does not have.

In other words, the TDSB does not have access to a yellow brick road. However, what they do have access to are parents. Why, then,  don’t they look at models for getting parents involved in their child’s school — and I’m talking about real parent engagement — something that research shows really does work. See, for example, this source, as well this one. And, while they are doing that, they could stop deficit spending and get back on track to closing, replacing and repairing their schools.

Revised Friday, November 19th, 2010. Photo credit for Wizard of Oz poster, Wikipedia.

23 thoughts on “The “Wizards at TDSB” want to bribe kids with cash

  1. All the school board is suggesting is that they prepare these kids for their future… on welfare. Just make a half-hearted attempt at doing the minimum to get by and you to can live forever at the largess of the taxpayer.


  2. Progressives would rather do something that doesn’t work,than be seen to do nothing. The world is full of their attempts to solve complex problems with simplistic solutions. Take a close look at global warming, for instance, or playgrounds in ghettos.

    I was born and raised in a poor area of Northern Manitoba in the late forties. We all knew that the only way out of poverty and that town, was hard work and learning. That was our incentive.

    As you say, it’s another blatant at bribery with OUR money, and it’s a lot easier than the alternatives, such as forcing parents to get involved.


  3. Pissedoff — Municipal government’s can’t touch education policy. I heard yesterday, that even the McGuinty gov’t won’t interfere, although they won’t give any extra money. To understand the true insanity of the TDSB, here is another column by Moira MacDonald. It indicates that the TDSB has a 42 million dollar deficit and that it has already moved 30 million from major repair projects like school roof repairs, etc. That the Director and trustees would even be musing aloud about giving any cash is irresponsible to say the least. I wasn’t kidding when I used the wizard of oz analogy.


  4. This is the dumbest thing since taking the grades off report cards, LOL. Chris Spence acts as if it “is his board” not the people’s board through the trustees. I expect the new board to deep 6 this one and read him the riot act over these tweets.


  5. Just to let those who left comments on this thread, Moira MacDonald updated a May 2010 column on the TDSB budget today. So, with that information in hand, I revised the post a bit. All my previous questions became redundant because the bottom line is the TDSB is so far in the financial hole, I can’t image why Spence is waxing lyrical about this.


  6. Doug — I had to amend your comment. When you mention a person by name, remember there are legal implications for the blogger.


  7. For starters, not nearly enough attention is paid to those who run for the various School Boards. You’d think people would realize it’s taxpayer money they’re using and or abusing and would choose people who know the value of a buck.


  8. The TDSB has an annual budget of about $2.5 billion per year so a “deficit” of $42 million shouldn’t be insurmountable, assuming there’s some willingness on the part of trustees to make even minimal changes in how things are done. I suspect the larger issue is that they’ve been so afraid act that there’s no willingness to change the status quo; then you add in the willingness of the McGuinty Liberals to keep bailing them out and I figure the plan is simply to claim there’s yet another “budget crisis” and stick their hands out.

    I’d be pretty unimpressed if I was a trustee anywhere else who actually did balance the budget.


  9. Off topic slightly, but it will be interesting to see how a right leaning mayor in Toronto will tolerate the cash flow leaving Toronto each year. Running on a campaign of stopping the gravy train within Toronto might expand to stopping the gravy train flowing out of the city. A right leaning mayor and potentially a right leaning provincial government may not be a nice as it sounds.


  10. The ‘pay the students’ idiocy came from the Director who thinks he can just gas off any time on a tweet if it is in the form of a question. “Maybe it is time to look at paying tudents for better progress”. I expect the trustees to reel him in once again. There has been a significant shift to the left on the TDSB notwithstanding the Ford victory. They will make every school closing a trip to the dentist for the nexy four years. Watch Chris Spence shift gears. Hmmm.


  11. Matt — You imply that Toronto tax money should not be leaving the city? Talk about an entitlement attitude! I can’t believe you wrote what you did.

    In point of fact, that mentality was the norm until Harris changed the funding formula. Until 1997 and Bill 160, Toronto was a negative grant board. They received nothing from the province and gave nothing in return — which is how they could afford swimming pools and all the extras they now think they are entitled.

    So, how is contributing to the rest of the province wrong? That is what a federation does. For example, federally, Alberta is funding Ontario and all the other have-not provinces — even those who complain about the oil sands — to the tune of $10,000 a family. The reason they do is so that everyone will have access to similar services.

    Of course, we know that Quebec gets more than everyone else but that’s another story.

    Now, you think Toronto should get more education services than the rest of the province? Well, if McGuinty did not change the funding formula back to the way it was, it’s never going to happen. Meaning, the TDSB is just going to have to live within its means.

    The reality is that Toronto has a huge tax base. Smaller urban and rural areas don’t. So, you think it would be okay if those communities didn’t have access to the same kinds of similar programs as the TDSB? Just wait until the day comes that you or a loved one has to move for employment and is faced with school boards in low tax base communities.

    Well that attitude is not one bit progressive I can tell you. And, I’m supposed to be the conservative here?

    You also ask how right leaning mayor Rob Ford will deal with all that tax money leaving the city? Good lord Matt, where is that attitude coming from. Surely, Rob Ford understands what a federation is, be it municipal, provincial or federal?

    Think about this for a minute. So, you go up north on a vacation. Do you not get to use roads and highways to get there? Can you not access health care if you need it? Or, will you be able to access public services if you decide to attend university in another community?

    Put succinctly, we are a people who are connected in seen and unseen ways. The people of Toronto do not stay in Toronto their entire lives 24/7. So, who pays for the services they use when they are not at home?

    You get my point. And, remember, I was born in Toronto and brought up in Toronto and have no axe to grind in that respect.



  12. Sorry Matt — Haven’t been able to find a post I wrote about what Alberta contributes per person or family. Don’t have time to do more. But, suffice to say both they and Ontario (and BC) to some extent, pay far more than they ever get back in social transfers. One thing I do resent, however, if how university tuitions in Quebec are one-half what they are anywhere else. Same with education grants in Ontario. Whatever happens should be equal treatment. Yet, I know for a fact that the District School Board of Niagara gets hammered with the way they are reimbursed for special education. So, the TDSB has nothing to complain about, other than “the entitlements” that you and they think they should have.


  13. Spence can point out that until trutees act on the school closing issue there’s less government money flowing in to repair/replace existing schools. Trutees who hide from making decisions unless they’re painless is a large part of what got the TDSB into the current “crisis”; that and trustees who forget who they actually work for.


  14. Sandy, my posting said that the people of Toronto are more than willing to share their tax dollars with the people of Ontario. I also stated a fact that the deficit would not be there if more money was kept in the city. Facts do not always reflect a person’s opinion! I just find it interesting that people want the money from Toronto, but also want to complain and criticize the great city. I also question why are you only referring to my post as entitlement because I said that some people in Toronto may want to keep more of their tax dollars in the city. Is it not entitlement for others to feel that the money should be shared with centres with a smaller tax base?

    People like to make Toronto out to be the bad guy. They help fuel the provincial economy, but then are criticized for asking for assistance because they have a complicated city and board to run.


  15. The trustees in Toronto have many difficult decisions that they face each year. They also face voters that still remember when Toronto kept its tax dollars for education and had enormous perks that other parts of the province did not enjoy. These voters have also caused many of the problems that Toronto faces each year – many don’t want these perks taken away. It is very difficult politically to close a school in Toronto. You can see by how hard it is to close a school pool. Many people here also applaud Toronto for creating alternative schools which give parents choices about education, but also discourages schools from closing. Sandy, I don’t live in Toronto, but I do recognize that there are two sides to every story. Some people like to blame T.O., I appreciate what they do for us and try to understand their situation. If you want to call it entitlement, then so be it.


  16. Matt — I live in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s only high school was closed this June because it had only 250 students, when the board demanded 350 to stay open. It was a horrendous process pitting neighbour against neighbour. Now, those 250 students are on buses for a couple of hours each day going to St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, getting on in the dark in the early morning and arriving home at the end of day, also in the dark.

    So, I have no pity for Toronto. Tough decisions have to be made everywhere. People in Toronto who don’t want to close low enrollment schools or perks (like pools) are just totally out in left field. You’d think TO was the only one experiencing tough times. Not so. It is definitely, or was, an entitlement culture. Hopefully Ford will be able to turn that around. TO residents don’t like all the taxes they are paying so there was a voters revolt. So, change will perhaps start at City Hall and trickle down to the school boards, hopefully. But, given Chris Spence’s latest musings, I doubt it.

    I remember watching TV a couple of years ago and listening to people in Toronto complaining about garbage pick up. They felt it was “their right” to put out as many bags as they wanted. Yet, those of us out in the boonies have been limited to three bags, now two, for years. It’s that attitude that I am talking about. God and my right stuff!

    Anyway, the complaining is just tiring that’s all, particularly when there are buildings and dozens of schools in the TDSB that could be sold for revenue. Instead, the board rents them out for a dollar a year or leaves them empty — all the while paying the utilities and cutting the grass.

    That’s the TDSB situation and I understand it perfectly. There simply are not enough trustees who will make the tough decisions.

    Whatever, don’t take my comments personally. You just expressed what you felt and I simply disagree. It’s been a good debate. Thanks.


  17. I’m more than happy to let trustees make whatever decisions are most politically expedient for them, however I also expect them to explain the consequences of their decisions. An unwillingness to dispose of surplus spaces means less resources will be available to maintain other schools or build new ones. As Dr Phil would say “actions have consequences”.


  18. The “union oriented trustees” as you call them, don’t really care about choices one way or the other inside the system. There is a strong belief among many bureaucrats that the more choice you have within the system, the more air goes out of the balloon of those who want choices “outside” the system. Choice within the system is the antidote to privatization in other words.

    Nevertheless I am predisposed against schools that separate children by religion, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. In the real society we need to merge and get along. Schools need to be mini-societies where kids prictice this.


  19. Offering “choice” within the existing system is a little iify; the same bureaucracy is still oversseing it, the same work rules, seniority lists, etc, apply. Essentially the “choice” will be whatever the usual suspects are willing to allow.


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