As the Toronto Catholic District School Board approves parking fees for teachers, board chair, Maria Rizzo claims the move is “a ‘new part of reality’ to ensure vital student programs continue” (1). The move comes after the Ford government announced its plans to cut one-billion dollars from education over the next four years.
Rather than acknowledging the real issue, provincial funding cuts, Rizzo presents this move as something that benefits students.
“‘We don’t want to do it on the backs of kids and I don’t want to do it on the backs of teachers either,’ Rizzo told CTV News Toronto in an interview. ‘But if it’s a choice between teachers and kids, my choice is easy.'” (1)
While put forward as a move to increase student success in the face of austerity, taking Rizzo’s words at face value is something no teacher would encourage their students to do. In order to be strong media consumers and creators students must look beyond the headlines to find the underlying biases and supporting evidence.
The Impact of Parking Fees on Teachers
While $10.00 a day may sound reasonable, that works out to over $200.00 a month. School Parking lots now command a higher price than prime parking in Downtown Toronto’s Kensington Market (2).
Non-tax deductible, this new fee works out to the equivalent of a $3000.00 decrease to teacher salary. This move hides what is essentially a decrease in pay between 6% and 3%, with the impact being a 4% decrease in income based on the average base pay for Toronto teachers (3).
Teachers who are most junior, who have the lowest income, will be the most impacted by the parking fees, as they have less ability to choose where they work.
Common misconceptions that teachers can apply to, and self-select their schools are made false when one looks into the impact of staff surplusing and teacher bumping. For those most at risk members, the impact of a 6% wage cut can mean the difference between being able to make ends meet or not.
However, Rizzo makes clear that the decision was not made with the TCDSB’s staff well-being in mind. The claim is that the decision was made in the best interest of the students.
The Impact of Parking Fees on Students
Without considering the financial burden that a $2000.00 annual fee will have on students who are dependent on parking to traverse from school to part-time jobs in order to save for their post-secondary education, teacher parking fees will have a high impact on decreased student success.
The Canadian government acknowledged the reality that many teachers are subsidizing their classrooms out of pocket when they introduced the Teacher and Early Childhood Educator School Supply Tax Credit. “This measure will allow an employee who is an eligible educator to claim a 15% refundable tax credit based on an amount of up to $1,000 of purchases of eligible teaching supplies by the employee in a taxation year. ” (4)
Capping eligible claims at $1000.00, the Government demonstrates an awareness that many teachers spend far more than that on the classrooms, and for their students.
Teachers across the province are paying for “[t]hings like books, scrap bins, charts, art on the walls, construction paper, decorations for holidays and other odds and ends [that] usually aren’t provided or paid for. ” (5)
When questioned on why they spend out of pocket for their students, teachers are quick to point out that while they could teach with the resources provided for them, “[they] want their students to be happy.” (5) This is something that Rizzo overlooks with the claim that parking fees will support students.
It seems that Rizzo is dependent on self-sacrificing attitudes of teachers who previously felt, “[they had] no problem [spending out of pocket] because kids do so much better in an environment where they are engaged and enjoy being there” (5).
Teachers have limited resources. Those two resources are time, and money. Teachers spend money on their students, some up to $5000.00 a year, in order to create a strong environment for success. The other resource, time, is just as critical to student well-being within the school system.
The TDSB conducted research that discovered “73% of students between Grades 9-12 worried about their future and 59% of students in Grades 7-8 reported worrying about their future” (6). One of the strongest factors that increased mental health was having a caring adult in the building. These strong relationships are often built on the backs of extracurricular activities.
Research demonstrates that “participation in clubs and teams is linked to the overall academic success of a school” (7). However, these extracurriculars are run on the resource of teachers’ time.
These clubs, sports, and before / after school activities will be one of the great losses faced by the implementation of parking fees.
Rather than being able to financially supplement their students’ needs, teachers will have to reallocate their money to pay for parking. The alternative is to turn to car-sharing, or public transportation. But that leads to the next obvious problem:
Teachers who are forced to switch their modes of transportation due to the inability to afford parking at their own job will have a long commute, costing them time.
The time they once spent on extracurricular activities will be reallocated to taking transit before and after work. The impact on staff surplusing has created situations where some teachers face an average driven commute of 40 minutes, while taking transit would exceed 2 hours in each direction.
When teachers spend an additional 8 hours commuting a week, that is taken from engaging students and building the relationships that are integral to their success.
It’s an Equity Issue, not a Financial Issue
By correlating the average family income (8) in Toronto, to transit access (9) it becomes clear that not all schools will be equally impacted by the teacher wage cut, in the form of parking fees.
Those most impacted will be the most at-risk within the city, and the impact will extend far beyond credit-accumulation. “A growing body of research supports the academic benefits and positive impact on student engagement and mental health that [extracurriculars] promote – especially for low-income students, who aren’t heading off to dance class and hockey practice once the bell rings.” (7)
Students who are most dependent on the financial commitment of their teachers to support education cuts will be hardest hit, while programs in affluent areas will continue to be supported by parent councils to provide necessary supplies.
Those seeking extracurricular opportunities, integral to their connection with their school and with education, will find themselves with limited programs to choose from.
It’s Not an Ecological Issue
Teachers do not drive to school out of their love of cars. They do so because budget cuts have left them unable to teach close to home. They do so because they require transporting their self-purchased supplies to their classroom. They do so so they can get home to their family at a reasonable hour after spending evenings running extracurricular activities.
While some attempt to frame this as an issue that will have a positive impact on the environment, they overlook the fact that the strongest environmental impact teachers make occurs through the EcoSchools program. By changing a school’s culture, and empowering student activists, the EcoSchools program creates a lasting impact that reaches into the surrounding community.
This extracurricular activity is one of the most time-intensive processes a school can engage with, requiring annual certification and commitments well beyond school hours, focused on planting and gardening, waste management, and energy consumption.
“By participating in the Ontario EcoSchools program, schools and school boards are working hard to conserve valuable resources. This reduces our collective impact on the planet and in turn can off-set costs across the province! It’s a win-win: save the environment and save money” (10).
Despite its positive impact, the commitments required to run the program will position EcoSchools as one of the first extracurriculars lost to the impacts of teacher parking fees.
Reading Beyond the Headlines
“‘It’s a tough decision,’ Rizzo explains. ‘It’s kids, programs, classrooms, education, versus paid parking.'” (1)
The false dichotomy is exposed as the impact teachers make on their students clearly demonstrates there is no choice between paid parking, and student student success. The choice for paid parking is a clear choice against student success.
The move for teacher parking fees is a detrimental decision that will have long reaching impacts on those most at need. Rather than being swayed by Rizzo’s words, parents need to consider the full impact of the decision before they send their children off to school in the fall.
Maria Rizzo can be contacted here: https://www.tcdsb.org/board/trusteesoftheboard/ward5trustee/Pages/Default.aspx