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Pickle Me This

My Letter to Ontario’s Minister of Education

February 12, 2019

Attention Hon. Lisa Thompson, MPP and Minister of Education: 

The very last priority for me when launching a conversation about public education on Ontario would be to begin with focus on business, because it’s putting the cart before the horse. When you invest in a robust public education system where every student has a chance to succeed, the result is an economy that thrives on talent and ingenuity, and a population equipped to take on the challenging problems of tomorrow (which are just the problems of today that governments like yours are unwilling or unequipped to grapple with). 

But I know that business is important to your government, so I am happy to meet you on your own terms, and tell you about mine. For the last ten years, I have run my own business as a writer, editor and entrepreneur, and I am proud of the career I’ve built. I love the many facets of my work, that no two days are ever the same, and I also appreciate that working from home has provided me the flexibility to balance parenting with my career—I’m available for school pick-ups and drop-offs, for sick days, and my work also permits me the opportunity to be active as a volunteer in our school community. 

I love volunteering at my children’s school. For the past two years, I’ve served as co-chair of the School Council, and I’ve also run three annual fundraisers, and from my time at school because of these experiences, I’ve gained extraordinary insight into how well our school is run, how hard our teachers work, how attentive they are to the needs of our community, and also how challenged they all are by a system that has been running bare-bones for years as a result of decades of underfunding. 

The fundraisers that I’ve run at my children’s school exist because of gaps that have emerged as a result of that underfunding. I run a magazine order fundraiser whose proceeds support the purchase of levelled readers (books) for literacy learning in classrooms. Our fruit and vegetable fundraiser supports our school’s environmental and sustainability initiatives. I also administer an art fundraiser, whose proceeds go towards a small reimbursement for our teachers towards their own funds they spend on classroom supplies and initiatives that enrich the learning experiences of my children and their classmates. 

And those are just the fundraisers that I’ve been charged with. In the past year, my colleagues on our School Council have run fundraisers to replace thirty-year-old gym mats; to upgrade outdated computer equipment; to buy new volumes for each classroom library; to provide arts and music enrichment for students and staff; to purchase equipment for sports teams; and more. To sum up: we’re stopping up the holes in our underfunded education system, and it’s because of our hard work and ingenuity, and especially the incredible resourcefulness of school staff, that our school system is still something Ontarians can be proud of. 

So that you are proposing a 4% budget cut is incredibly disturbing, not to mention reckless and short sighted. There is so much wrong with the premise of further cuts to an already underfunded system, but I am going to lay out one big problem that really bothers me: every dollar you cut means more time that parents like me are going to have to take away from our own jobs and businesses in order to do more volunteer work at school to attempt to make up for that shortfall. Already, we have parents doing administrative work in the office, because our administrator’s support was cut and she cannot do her job on her own. We have parents working as reading tutors for our school’s literacy programs. We have parents who volunteer for pizza lunches, whose proceeds go toward boosting our science curriculum. I’ve volunteered for our book fair, which raises money for library books. 

Your government is taking for granted this labour, which is grossly unfair, and also unequitable, because many parents in other communities do not necessarily have the extraordinary amount of time, flexibility and capital necessary for this kind of commitment, and their children’s learning experiences are suffering as a result. The planned cuts that your government is putting forward are only going to exacerbate these problems, and cost Ontarians so much more money in the future than anything your ministry might manage to save. 

I have spent the last seven months with significant concerns about the work you and your ministry are doing. The parent consultation last fall was not effectively administered and results seem to have been discounted; cuts to programs to bring Indigenous content into the school curriculum have been cancelled without anything to replace them; this whole “sex-ed” debacle was an unnecessary and manufactured crisis; your suggestion to remove caps on classroom sizes is ludicrous (there is no data suggesting this is remotely a good idea); and whatever was going on the other week with your lack of plans for our province’s full day kindergarten program was irresponsible and sloppy. 

Ontario parents are not going to sit back while you continue to work to dismantle so much of what makes our education system excellent. It was two weeks ago now that the Premier referred to that system as “broken,” which seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. But Ontario parents are not going to let that happen. 

I hope you will start listening to our teachers, who are our partners and allies in our children’s education, and actually supporting and investing in the incredible work they do. 

Yours sincerely,

Kerry Clare