Toronto parents frustrated by lack of space in recreation programs
Swimming lessons aren't as easy to come by as they used to be, it seems—unless, of course, you've got your own pool and the cash to hire a private instructor.
Registration opened Wednesday for spring and summer recreation sessions at community centres across the City of Toronto, prompting a mad rush among parents looking to get their kids into free day camps, sports leagues, arts classes and other city-run rec programs.
City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross announced around 8 a.m. yesterday that, within just one hour of registrations going live, the city had processed 50,633 applications. That's nearly 50 per cent more than what we saw last year at the same time, according to Ross.
Ninety-six per cent of all registrations at that point were processed online, but more than 2,000 others registered by phone or in person at their local community centres—some of them after waiting all night long in the blistering cold.
Mary Ann Scott and her friend are waiting outside a downtown community centre right now in hopes of getting their children into city-run recreation programs. Demand is so high and the system unreliable so they resort to waiting all night. It’s -21C. Registration opens tomorrow AM pic.twitter.com/EkCJy6Phyn— Jennifer Pagliaro (@jpags) March 6, 2019
Images of two such women, shared by Toronto Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro, shocked and appalled many who live in the city.
"It's shameful that parents had to spend the night outside community centres, at -20 degrees, to get spaces in programs!" wrote 8 80 Cities Founder Gil Penalosa on Twitter in response to the situation.
"Over 100,000 children turned back each year," he continued. "Unacceptable! Success is not on-line registration, success is no person turned back from recreation programs. None."
Some, including 2018 mayoral candidate and former City of Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, held up the rush on registrations as evidence of larger problems with how the city spends its money
A stampede to access recreation programs in Toronto - declining service levels, increasing demand makes access stressful. Imagine a ‘no child left behind’ policy, where we funded programs based on need rather than budget cuts. Imagine a city where every child learns to swim. https://t.co/Wk7aiR7zMC— Jennifer Keesmaat (@jen_keesmaat) March 7, 2019
"Working in recreation for over 12 years and I've seen how community rec programs can help communities grow and flourish," wrote Toronto teacher Paul Di Prospero in response to Keesmaat's imagining of a "no-child left behind" policy.
"Funding based on need rather than arbitrarily decided budget numbers would allow local recreation centres," continued Di Prospero. "And staff to deliver based on community needs."
With Toronto's budget going before City Council today for final approval, some are calling upon Mayor John Tory to reconsider his own definition of "balanced."
Pagliario reports that Toronto did add 25,000 new spaces this year to its recreation programs on account of demand, though nearly 60,000 people were still on a wait list ahead of yesterday's registration launch (at which point the wait list simply resets).
Should the budget presented at City Hall today move forward without any changes, it will include money for approximately 7,500 more rec program spaces in 2019.
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