Thursday, January 12, 2012

Parent Councils Struggle to Raise Funds for New Play Structures

This article originally ran in the December edition of the Kitchissippi Times.

Broadview Avenue Public School is the latest of the Kitchissippi neighbourhood schools to begin a quest for play structure funding. Liz Burgess and Claire Todd are co-chairs of the Council and hope to raise $150,000 this year. Even if they meet their goal, the money “won’t buy us a Cadillac,” Burgess stresses.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board will remove the junior play structure at Broadview Avenue Public School by September 2012 and won’t replace it. They will give the school just $7,500 towards a new one.

“That’s about enough to buy a slide” says Burgess, who has already invested a significant amount of time researching options. She found that almost $60,000 is required to deal with drainage and grounds issues alone.

In a similar situation, the Board removed Woodroffe Avenue Public School’s primary play structure this past summer, leaving the 300 students in Grades 1 to 3 with nothing but empty areas of sand, grass and pavement.

For Woodroffe and Broadview, as for any other school, a complex web of funding must come together before anything else happens: the City will match the Board’s $7,500, Dovercourt Recreation Association has pledged $5,000, the Council is applying for numerous private grants, and fundraising activities will be held throughout the school year.

Another hurdle: although the Board does not provide much funding, it does control the installation process.

“The money must be in the bank before the Request for Proposal process begins,” says Todd, “and installation will not take place for an additional six months after that.”

“We initially thought we could accept donations of services,” adds Todd, “but that will only be possible if the people in question are insured and become certified by the Board.”

Contracts for work at the schools must be sourced through the OCDSB and Board safety standards are higher than those of even the City public playgrounds. Essentially this means schools must purchase “top-of-the-line” equipment, says Burgess.

The Broadview Council co-chairs are both experienced project managers previously employed in the high-tech sector; they know this isn’t a playground project for the faint of heart. Burgess and Todd each spend approximately 30 hours a week on Council matters, the bulk of which are yard and fundraising related. While they agree that parents shouldn’t be asked to personally fund such a basic component part of their children’s education, in the short-term they are worrying less about the big picture and more about just getting the work done.

School Councils were mandated in 1997 by the Ontario government. While described in Ministry documents as serving an advisory function, they are more clearly fundraising bodies that supplement tax dollars to augment children’s education experience outside the classroom. Council documents from neighbourhood schools indicate that a Council budget is typically between one-quarter and one-half that of a school’s annual operating budget.

Yasir Naqvi, the area’s Member of Provincial Parliament, stresses that the Ontario Liberals increased funding to schools by 40 percent over the last eight years while enrollment has decreased by 8 per cent.

That being said, Chair of the OCDSB Jennifer McKenzie points out that most of the budget increases were dedicated to salaries and the costs of decreased classroom size, full-day kindergarten, and a variety of other special projects. McKenzie pointed out that the Board receives approximately $10 million annually for renewal projects across 150 schools. The Board has discretion in how it spends that money but roofs and boilers necessarily take priority over play structures, said McKenzie.

For details on Broadview’s and Woodroffe’s fundraising initiatives, visit and