30,000 adults could lose ESL classes

TheStar.com – parentcentral.ca – 30,000 adults could lose ESL classes
Francine Kopun
April 17, 2008

English as a Second Language classes for 30,000 adults could be on the chopping block if the recommendations of a Toronto District School Board report are adopted, worried administrators said yesterday.

“We are helping all kinds of newcomers, including refugee claimants, landed immigrants and even citizens who have been here for some time – they are all in dire need of our service,” said Jinjiang Du, site manager at the Bickford Centre.

The Bloor St. W. centre is one of many Toronto public school board sites that offer inexpensive ESL classes to people who in many cases couldn’t otherwise afford language instruction.

The threat of closing is embedded in the General Asset and Program Planning (GAPP) Working Group Report that went before trustees last night.

As well as urging the closing of underused schools, it says all continuing education programs not mandated or funded by the province should generate enough revenue to cover their costs.

“It wipes continuing education off the map,” said trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

However, board chair John Campbell said last night the ESL community has no reason “whatsoever” to be concerned.

“I think there is a strong commitment on the board to continue to offer adult ESL,” he said before the meeting.

“It’s possible that we may even take this out of the report tonight.”

He said the board intends to press the province for more ESL funding. “Were we to press our case to them, I think they would be willing to listen to us.”

Adult ESL is not mandated by the province. Although the program is funded by the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, the ministry does not cover the cost of operating or maintaining the buildings where the classes are held. In 2006-2007, the board’s deficit incurred for adult ESL classes was $700,000.

Along with the Bickford Centre, it has three other stand-alone adult ESL centres under its wing: the Jones Avenue Adult Centre off the Danforth, and the Overland and Bathurst Heights learning centres in North York.

The GAPP report says daytime credit and ESL programs for adults should be offered in dedicated buildings only if the province pays site expenses.

The adult ESL schools are used to cutbacks. In 2000, the principal and vice-principal positions at each stand-alone site were eliminated in favour of a site manager.

“We spend most of the money that we get from the government on the learners, because most important are the books, the resources and the basic furniture, the chairs and desks. But other than that, we really don’t have much left. We don’t even have money to replace the curtains that have been hanging there for 20 years, in rags,” said Du.

With files from Kristin Rushowy

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