McGuinty 'won't fund' Afrocentric school plan
TORONTO - Premier Dalton McGuinty voiced disapproval Thursday of a decision to open a black-focused alternative school in Toronto but his Liberal government won't try to block the school board from going through with the plan.
"I am disappointed with the board's decision,'' McGuinty said.
"I don't support it and we won't fund it. I continue to believe that the best way for us to educate our children is to bring them together so they can come together, learn together and grow together.''
The McGuinty Liberals cruised to victory in the fall election largely on the controversy surrounding his rival John Tory's promise to fund faith-based schools. The issue dominated the campaign and cost the Progressive Conservatives support.
Opposition critics, still licking their wounds from their October defeat, accused the premier of trying to have it both ways.
"He's a hypocrite to say that he can't take any action,'' said Conservative Elizabeth Witmer.
"He could be working with the board and saying, `OK, you've got a problem.'''
Witmer said high dropout rates and underachieving students are problems across the province, not just in Toronto, and creating a segregated school isn't the answer.
"Before you know it, you're going to have another group at some point in time ... say, `You know what? We'd like to set up a school for our students because of this reason.'''
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said the Toronto District School Board has the right to set up the program, since provincial law allows school boards to fund alternative schools.
McGuinty said school trustees "leapt before they took a good look'' at the plan, but said it was up to Toronto residents to decide if they wanted to try to stop the school by appealing to the board.
"What is really troubling for me is what about the 30,000-plus black students at the TDSB who are not going to get into this school or these schools?'' he said.
"How does this assist them in a very direct way in improving the quality of their educational opportunities?''
Implementing the board's plan to combat high dropout rates among black students, which includes the proposed black-focused school, is expected to cost about $850,000, which McGuinty insists the province will not provide.
But he wouldn't say whether that means the province won't bail out the cash-strapped school board at the end of the year, as it has in the past.
"The point I'm making today is that we're not going to be providing any additional funding for this particular new policy,'' McGuinty said.
Board officials, who are projecting a $41-million deficit, have said they will find the money for the school in their $2.3-billion budget.
The school was among four recommendations approved Tuesday following a narrow vote and months of heated debate.
Critics fear the "Afrocentric'' school, slated to open by September 2009, will further divide an already fragmented student population and open the door to school segregation on the basis of religion and ethnicity.
The proposed school has been billed as a Canadian first, although an elementary school that teaches the provincial curriculum in the predominantly black community of North Preston, N.S., operates with an Afrocentric philosophy.