Archive for June, 2011

June 29, 2011

Wellbeing Toronto

Long awaited, Wellbeing Toronto is launching this morning through the City of Toronto website.

Keep hitting refresh! It will be here soon.

The Toronto Star has given a sneak peek in today’s edition. The site lets users select and map , across the City’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods, from a menu of indicators, ranging from one of Toronto’s top ten languages, applications to universities, or robberies. It also maps locations of various civic sites, community hubs, rate payers associations and other neighbourhood features.

While it’s bound to have some bugs as it launches (I couldn’t see a legend), this is a significant contribution to the civic dialogue of the city – as long as more than real estate agents use it! (My conflict-of-interest? I sat in on two advisory panels during its development.)

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June 23, 2011

New, more open data sharing on Toronto websites

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de To...

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de Toronto Deutsch: Karte von Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Toronto data geeks can be excited about three new websites breaking onto the Toronto scene.

The first is a fresh new look for Toronto Health Profiles, a data partnership among St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, Toronto Public Health, the Wellesley Institute and some community organizations. Thematic maps and data tables on a range of health indicators are being released as they are being developed. The site has gotten a good overhaul to make it easier to navigate and give it a cleaner look.

The second, from the Three Cities project, which looked at changing income trends in Toronto neighbourhoods, is releasing its findings in new more useable formats. The research website, driven by St. Christopher House and University of Toronto Professor David Hulchanski, Neighbourhood Change has re-launched with a new look. The site offers additional maps, a recent report on Scarborough and video clips. Information on Montreal and Vancouver are included alongside tower renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The third and most elaborate, the Wellbeing Toronto website will be launching June 29. (The site is so new, the URL was still being determined at the beginning of June!) It evolved out of the Neighbourhood Wellbeing Index/Indices project through the City of Toronto.

This new interactive site will build on census data and local administrative databases (liberated through Open Data Toronto). It has been funded through the Citizenship Immigration Canada Toronto Newcomer Initiative. The available data will be aggregated to the level of the city’s 140 planning neighbourhoods.

The site offers a range of goodies, from orthographic/satellite, cartographic/street view maps of Toronto. Ward boundaries and places of interest, such as community stores or convenience stores, will be mappable. An address search function is also to be included.

The developers have tried to make the site user-friendly, including some pre-set domains, including, for instance, a “diversity index” which measures ethno-racial mixes within a neighbourhood. Users of the site will be able to drill down into neighbourhoods or make comparisons among them. Up to 20 indicators can be loaded at a time, weighted differently, and then the data can be able to be exported to PDF, Excel or CSV formats.

The crime data is likely to be the most popular area of inquiry. Data for criminal code offenses for seven major crimes are included: Murders, Shootings, Vehicular theft, Break and Enters, Assaults, Sexual Assaults, and Arson. All of this rich fodder that has only been available on a limited basis up till now.

City staff are also looking to include other data in the future. Approaches to the Toronto Board of Trade, the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs, for information on hospitalization rates and seniors), the Canadian Bankers Association (for information on debt load), and the Children’s Aids Societies.  Indicators for arts and culture will be coming in October. The Toronto Transit Commission should also be included because  of the open data work, looking at routes, stops, crowding.

Both these sites will help to better inform civic discussions in the city and so are welcome web 2.0 resources.

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June 13, 2011

InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools

Monarch Park Collegiate

Image via Wikipedia

A small news article in the local paper flagged another round of cuts threaten school pools, yet again.It seems the City’s lease on pools expires this year on December 31, 2011. InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools. However, it may not be so dire as portrayed.

If the school pools can demonstrate “continued community use,” the funds will flow through the Toronto Lands Corporation.

Monarch Park High School’s pool is one of the few accessible pools in the city. Not only is the equipment available for people who use wheelchairs, the water is kept warmer as well. Monarch Park Community Aquatics is now offering a Recreational Community Swim on Fridays from 6:30 -7:30 pm. Enter through the doors marked #2, which are the first set west of Coxwell. Admission:  $1 per person or $5 per family For more info contact:  monarchparkaquatics@gmail.com

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June 10, 2011

City of Toronto Recreation Service Plan Consultations show high usage in surprising places

The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) division is optimistically developing a five-year plan. Consultations are underway. A recent consultation for local agencies on the Recreation Service Plan was well attended, while PFR staff facilitated and recorded participants’ comments. The table discussions were passionate and loud. In fact, because the small meeting room was made of concrete building blocks, people sitting at the same table could not hear each other.

The session began with a summary presentation of current programs.

A city ward map describing where PFR program registrants live showed some surprising patterns. Central Etobicoke and the Beach (ward 32) showed the highest levels of participation, where as the downtown wards showed the lowest. Those outside the city core are more likely to be higher users of community recreation centres than those who live downtown.


High users Medium-High Medium Medium-Low Low Users
 Area of City Over 8% pop. 6.51% – 8% 5.01% to 6.5% 2.01% – 5% Under 2%
Etobicoke wards 4 3 3 1 0
North York & York wards 0 1 9 1 0
Toronto & East York wards 1 3 0 5 2
Scarborough wards 0 2 7 1 0

This patterns holds even where residents may have fewer places to access recreation programs, however this was not as easy to tell because not all program locations were mapped.

The summary presentation then described other program components.

The identified (and fairly vague) guiding principles for the PFR plan are equitable access, quality, inclusion, and capacity building. The new Recreation Service Plan will address how the principles can be achieved; what the appropriate program mix should be; what service gaps need to be addressed; and, what other improvements are needed. To develop this, attendees were asked the following questions:

  1. What do you think the barriers are to achieving equitable recreation opportunities across the city and how they can be overcome?
  2. Does the current mix of programs and services support the principle of equitable access to all city residents?
  3. In your opinion, what are the most important areas that the City of Toronto needs to focus on in providing high quality recreation programs and services?
  4. How can PFR engage communities and groups who do not participate in recreation programs and services?
  5. How can PFR help to strengthen communities and who can we partner with?
  6. How can PFR attract, support and retain volunteers?

Among other items, the table discussions raised the following key issues in their responses:

  • PFR is not meeting the current demand. The levels of service often mean programs fill up quickly and registrants are put on long waitlists.
  • PFR should be working in partnership with local non-profits to maximize the use of space, better outreach and local community benefit.
  • The importance of raising the bar vs. driving to the lowest common denominator, that is making sure everyone has access to good local programming
Other consultations are being held around the city.

If you are interested in providing input, the City’s survey is available on-line at www.toronto.ca/parks/serviceplan.

In order to encourage wider input, Public Interest consultants has developed a simpler version at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/accesstocommunityrecreation to submit to the City afterwards.

Responses are due June 30, 2011.

How this new PFR plan will fit with the core service review also going on now is still to be determined.

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June 6, 2011

After school children’s programming in Toronto is a scarcity

20070900 149 Orr in after school activity

Image by Eilam Gil via Flickr

When Toronto’s Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services organized summer programming in the northwest end of the city a few years ago, they took the kids on a trip to the Toronto islands. Many of them had never been there, and some didn’t know our city sat on the edge of a large lake. Doorsteps also arranged for bike donations so that the children could explore their own neighbourhood more widely.

“Children and adolescents may be especially influenced by their immediate surroundings, as they are more likely than adults to spend the majority of their time in their local surroundings,” writes Margo Jackson and Amy Hsin, then doctoral students in UCLA’s sociology department in a 2006 study.

“Neighbourhoods affect children’s opportunities, activities and achievement.” Jackson and Hsin also described how, if mothers described their neighbourhoods as safe, children were more likely to be healthy and active in their leisure time. This perception had a stronger association with children’s level of activity than the simple availability of programs, even.

Social Planning Toronto researchers worked with a coalition called Middle Years Matters a few years ago to map out the after-school opportunities grade-school aged children have in Toronto. The study found a wide gap between what’s available and what’s needed. Less than ten per cent of kids in the city are served through a formal children’s programme.

Many were appalled by these findings. According to the Coalition,

The middle childhood years are a critical period in the lives of

children.  This is the time when children develop the important skills

which help them make the transition from the early years into

adolescence.  It is a time when they begin to develop more resilience

and self-confidence and begin to move from the close supervision of

parents, teachers and other care givers towards the greater

independence that comes in their teenage years.

After school programs play a key role in helping children make these

transitions.  High quality programs give children a range of new

opportunities for play and learning that they may not have at home or

in the classroom.  Most important, quality out-of-school-time programs

provide supervised care that ensures that children are safe while out

of the home and school.

While the Social Planning study could not track what other children, outside formal programming, were doing after school, some American studies have found, in descending order, a range of other activities from informal care and social visiting; shopping and other commercial activities; government programs; and religious education.

So this summer, the Middle Years Matters Coalition is working with the Children’s Services Division of the City of Toronto to do a similar assessment of local children. To do this, they are

  • Implementing an electronic survey to parents across Toronto to find out what their needs are in this area.
  • Holding focus groups with parents to examine their needs in this area more deeply.
  • Supporting the City of Toronto to develop a database that can be used by parents and service providers to access information about such programs in Toronto.

To complete the Middle Years survey, parents may access it here.

The findings will be used to develop a Middle Childhood Strategy for the City.

June 1, 2011

Toronto District School Board 2011 budget deliberations begin

The head office of the Toronto District School...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

A useful e-mail is circulating around the Toronto District School Board, summarizing some of the early budget deliberations, as trustees face another year of shortfall. The Board’s Budget Committee met on Monday, May 30. Here is the synopsis. The conclusion provides some useful steps for concerned parents and advocates:

The Committee members defeated the Staff recommendations to balance the 2011-2012 Budget, which included the following:

  • Shifting $30m (million) from large capital repairs to smaller projects
  • Permit Fees Increase – 22% as of Jan. 2012 — $ 1.60 m
  • Department Budget Reductions $3.70 m
  • Using savings from previous years   $13.10m
  • Transportation (no impact on students) $.25 m
  • Reduction to central departments casual replacement budgets $1.00 m
  • Purchasing of utilities $.80 m
  • Auditing for enrolment and class size efficiencies $ 1. 00 m
  • Broader Public Sector Directive and reduction of meeting expenses $ .20 m
  • Reducing of External Consultants $3.70 m

Possible total (short-term) savings found:   $ 55. 35 million

After this recommendation was defeated, the Budget committee agreed to meet Wednesday June 8th (time to be confirmed) to look at recommendations again. They asked staff to look at the possibility of lessening the $30 m cutback from capital funding (to $20 m or $25 m for example), and balance the remainder from items from another document presented (Appendix “B”) which lists items which are either under or unfunded items by the Ministry of Education.  Here is the list from Appendix “B”:

  • Outdoor Ed  $6.7 m
  • Regular Ed. Assistants  $ 22.6 m
  • Literacy Teachers  $15.2 m
  • Library Teachers   $ 6.25 m
  • Guidance Teachers  $5.59 m
  • Classroom Consultants, Central Coordinating Principals etc. $3.5 m
  • School budgets   $10.27 m
  • Elementary supervision  $9.31 m
  • School safety monitors   $6.13 m
  • School office  $8.06
  • Vice Principals  $8.34 m
  • Special education    $15.4 m
  • Model Schools   $8.5 m
  • Safe Schools   $3.05 m
  • Board Administration  $18.48 m
  • Transportation  $ 2.49 m
  • Permits   $11.2 m
  • Vision of Hope  $1.00 m
  • Aboriginal Education  $438,284
  • Continuing Education  $8. 01 m

Total:  $170,633,755.00 million under or non-funded items

Why does the TDSB have a funding gap?

There is currently a $150,000,000 million difference between what the TDSB receives in “directed grant” monies from the Ministry of Education (i.e., for things such as Full Day Kindergarten etc.) and what we choose to spend. Sometimes, the Ministry does not send enough money to cover an initiative that they direct the board to do, for example, adequate funding for teachers’ salaries to fully implement Full Day Kindergarten. This means money must be found elsewhere to cover this cost.

Sweatered vs. Unsweatered Grants from the Ministry of Education (MoE):   Grants from the Ministry are either sweatered (meaning they have to be spent on a certain program or in a certain way), or unsweatered (meaning the board has flexibility about how they spend the money).  For example, special education funding is sweatered by the MoE and can only be spent by the TDSB on special education programs and services.  The TDSB must also be accountable and track these monies to show the MoE they were spent as directed.

However, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is an unsweatered Ministry grant, which means the TDSB has flexibility in using these funds event though the LOG is intended, in theory, to fund programs and services for students who are deemed “at risk” due to poverty and other factors, and/or who are aboriginal. While some of the LOG funding does indeed go to support students ‘at risk’, much of it is used to pay for under or unfunded items through the MoE’s funding formula and initiative funding.

The Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG)

The ICAC has always argued that the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program (MSIC) should be funded by the LOG because that is what the grant is supposedly for. The Model Schools provides a holistic and innovative program in 105 schools across Toronto, and does this on a budget of $8.5 million that has not changed since 2006, in spite of inflationary pressures, salary increases, rising food costs etc.   Next year, in an effort to reach more underserved students, staff have decided to expand the MSIC to reach 125 schools across the city.  Last night the ICAC motion, asking for a 5% increase (approximately $425,000) to the MSIC funding, was defeated. (The motion is attached in pdf above.)

What can you do?

1.     Email or call your/all trustee(s) to ask that the motion be reconsidered at the June 8th Budget Committee meeting. (www.tdsb.on.ca click on “boardroom” to find a list of 22 trustees)

2.     Request a deputation (speaking for 5 minutes) spot for the June 8th Budget Committee meeting (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=88&menuid=310&pageid=239)

3.     Attend the June 8th Budget Committee meeting and the Board meeting where the Trustees debate the budget – June 22nd

4.     Advocate for a fully funded education system which meets the needs of all children and supports each and every one in achieving their highest potential.

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