A thank you sign is displayed on the fence of the new play structure at Viscount Alexander Public School on Thursday, June 20, 2019. School council raised money and got grants to have this play structure built after the last one was torn down as unsafe.
David Kawai / Ottawa Citizen
The Ontario government says all public schools must have school councils, to keep local school boards accountable and strengthen ties with the community. Increasingly, though, these volunteer bodies have served another crucial purpose: fundraising. And not just for frills or “would be nice” educational extras.As an investigation by the Citizen’s Jacquie Miller shows, school councils – made up of parents, a community person, a principal, a teacher and sometimes a student – often raise thousands to pay for things like iPads, library books and sports equipment. That’s even though the provincially funded public system is supposed to ensure basic educational materials in all public schools.But as any teacher can tell you, there’s often a gap between what the province provides and what schools need. Given the current government’s desire to control education spending, this gap won’t close soon. So the school councils raise money.There’s a hitch, however: the ability of some school councils to raise far more money for their students than others can.Given the current government’s desire to control education spending, the funding gap won’t close soon.For instance, the school council raised $120,000 in a single year at Rockcliffe Park Public, allowing for new books in the library, a trip to the Ottawa Children’s Festival for all students and a subsidy for the graduation ceremony. By contrast, at Vincent Massey Public, the school council could only raise $4,600. It simply hopes to upgrade its 1980s-era library booksThe reason for the disparities is clear: the top fundraising school councils tend to be in well-off areas. Parents have more time for volunteer activities such as fundraising, and sometimes possess a wider variety of skills and connections. Those schools where fundraising is much lower often serve poorer neighbourhoods, or have a high ratio of refugee families or recent immigrants. These parents may be working two jobs or still learning English, making it hard to be active members of school councils, let alone handle fundraising.This results in real education differences within the public board. Given that the province won’t do much anytime soon, the community itself must act. Happily, that is happening in some places.For instance, some of the top fund-raising councils locally are “twinning” with less well-off ones to ensure they can buy essentials. That’s a great way to help.The board should also encourage school councils to create a pool of funds among themselves to support all schools. That builds wider communities.Everyone benefits when we help all kids learn.ALSO IN THE CITIZEN OPINIONS: Kurl: Action on handguns might help Trudeau unite votersPortman: Ottawa’s LRT reflects a total lack of transit visionToday’s letters: Disparity between Ottawa schools is shocking