Wynne, lose and belly flop

Thu, April 17, 2008 CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Once a champion of the save the pools and schools fight, now look at the education minister

My, that's a most uncomfortable petard Education Minister Kathleen Wynne has hoisted herself on.

Here she is, sternly scolding the Toronto District School Board on how it can sell off vacant properties to pay for pools.

Where have I heard all this before?

Oh, right. That would be former premier Mike Harris and a laundry list of Tory education ministers, from John Snobelen to Elizabeth Witmer.

Now we hear the TDSB needs to close not just pools, but schools. Hey, we've gone down this road, too.

Remember activists storming the school board barricades back in 1998 when then board chair Gail Nyberg announced the board would close 138 schools? Back then it was the end of civilization as we know it. Now it's good public policy.

And who were those folks at the front of the protests? Why, one Kathleen Wynne. And yes, now that you mention it, that is the same Kathleen Wynne who is now education minister.

Here's Wynne in her own words in June 1999, as an anti-Tory education activist about a proposal to close nine schools:

"We need 12 votes to say this process does not have integrity," she said as a member of the Metro Parent Network. "This is a very important juncture for this board. Will it grow up and take a leadership role or will it will disappear?"

And this: "It will be a competitive exercise, pitting parent group against parent group and neighbour against neighbour."

That was then.

In the legislature this week, Wynne had this to say in a response to a question about why there isn't enough money to keep pools open.

"There are 90-plus schools that are surplus in the Toronto District School Board that could be leveraged for capital dollars."

Sheesh, Kathleen. That's what Harris said in 1999. Demographics were changing. With families fleeing to the suburbs, there was a need to direct cash and resources to high growth areas from empty schools downtown.

That was then.

And on June 26, 2001, the Sun's incomparable education columnist, Moira MacDonald, reported that Wynne had originally crafted a motion to close school pools, but was prepared to vote against it had it come down to a final vote.

Wynne told MacDonald she had proposed closing them to "shine a light on the irrationality" of the province's education funding formula, which does not pay for school swimming pools.

"I don't think we're creating this crisis," said Wynne. "The provincial government's creating this crisis."

That was then.

FIVE YEARS

Okay, Kathleen. You've been in government for almost five years. If you want to change the funding formula, do it.

Once she became king of the castle, she realized it doesn't make any sense to spend education bucks on pools. Well, it doesn't make sense to cut the recreation facilities of some of the poorest kids in the province either. So go find money in another budget to keep them open.

Back in 2002, Wynne was one of three public school trustees who refused to balance the board's budget, and who went to court with a charter challenge to the law that requires them to do so. (The court rejected that request in 2003.)

That was then.

Yesterday, Wynne said it's a positive sign the TDSB is looking to close schools.

"I think this is a reality and in fact boards want the ability to be able to manage their assets and that's what the Toronto board is doing and I am glad that they are looking at the schools in their board and they are making decisions based on programs," she told reporters.

She said enrolment is now declining but it was growing when she was a trustee. The fact is, the TDSB has been sitting on empty real estate for years. The downtown high school my son went to was half empty 10 years ago. It was obvious that once the so-called baby boom echo went through the school system, there would be extra space.

Ninety half-empty schools didn't materialize overnight. And whatever happened to Gerard Kennedy's moratorium on school closings that the Libs promised in their first mandate?

That was then, too.

Now the school trustees are all buddy-buddy with the McGuinty government, so it's fine to close schools. It's Wynne-win. Unless your school has a pool slated to close. Then, of course, it's Wynne-lose.