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Toronto parents say condo boom is sending schools over the edge

SALMAAN FAROOQUI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Sep 4th, 2017

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TORONTO – Serina Manek has been living in Leslieville for seven years, and has watched it go from a rough-around-the-edges area in Toronto’s east end, to one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

The demand for Leslieville was always building, she says, but when the condos started going up, the boom of young families started to have an effect on the neighbourhood dynamic, and ultimately, the schools.

“It was starting to burst at the seams with just the young families coming in at first,” said Manek, who has a five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. “But with the addition of the condos, things are becoming unmanageable. It’s too much.”

Toronto public schools in condo-heavy neighbourhoods are starting to feel the squeeze of a dense population. The Toronto District School Board has been warning new home buyers in certain neighbourhoods that not all children will be accommodated in their home school.

TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird says the board has placed signs on the street level warning potential home buyers that a spot in a home school isn’t guaranteed, and similar warnings are also included in the home buyer’s agreement. Bird says the most recent statistics show that there are 110 new developments in Toronto with those warnings.

Leslieville is one of them, and Manek says that she doesn’t know if her daughter will be able to go to the same school as her brother when she starts kindergarten.

“It’s unsettling to walk around the neighbourhood and see that sign, and for that to be your form of communication,” said Manek. “I guess the frustration is the communication, but I don’t know where that communication would come from.”

Sitting in a buzzing Leslieville park — one that Manek notes used to be empty a few years ago — she says that she doesn’t see the population boom as sustainable.

Her friend, Holly Andruchuk, will be sending her son to his first year of kindergarten in the upcoming school year, but says that the implications of her crowded nearby school just keep piling up.

Their school, Morse Park Junior Public School, is nestled on a small street just off of Leslieville’s main thoroughfare. In 2010, it was home to around 200 students, according to the TDSB. This year, it’s grown more than double that with over 500 students. Bird says the dramatic increase is due to changing demographics in the region, as well as the addition of French immersion at the school.

Andruchuk says that the high number of students means that her son will be in a classroom with as many as 27 other students, and that is one of five kindergarten classes this year. And his classroom will be on the second floor, which she says is unusual for a kindergarten student.

“Our teacher on orientation night actually said that, because we’re on the second floor, our kids don’t go outside as often,” said Andruchuk. “Because in winter time, trying to dress four- and five-year-olds (and then get them down the stairs) is a challenge on its own.”

However, Andruchuk is optimistic that her son’s education won’t suffer. She believes that the community will have to step up to support their children in a way that a stressed school system might not be able to. Her friend Manek, however, is not so sure. She thinks that ultimately, some parents will give up on the Leslieville area and move on further away.

Whether a community culture can save Leslieville or not, the problem isn’t isolated to the one Toronto neighbourhood. Bird says that the housing development warnings are sprawled in locations all across the city.

Next door in Mississauga, Ont., the Peel District School Board uses the same warning messages to prospective buyers in the crowded city centre area, where more families are living in condos than originally expected.

“The numbers would bear out a trend that families are seeking a more affordable form of apartment condominiums,” said Randy Wright, a planning controller with the PDSB, who says that finding land for new schools for the incoming families is proving to be a difficult task.

And across the country in Vancouver, the city’s public school board says it can’t always guarantee that students will be able to go to their home school, and may have to be bussed out to further schools.

In the meantime, Andruchuk and Manek are gearing up for the upcoming school year, and plan to volunteer in the school system as much as possible.

“I will always put my kids’ education first,” said Manek.

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