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Extra-curricular activities to return, minister predicts
Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Ontario parents should expect a return to normal extra-curricular activities when their children return to most elementary and secondary schools next month -- an outlook that signals an end to years of labour disruptions in the education system.

"We should have no excuse for no extra-curricular activities this fall," Education Minister Janet Ecker said yesterday.

Leaders of other groups in the education system agreed. "In most schools it will be back to normal," said Earl Manners, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.

Members of the OSSTF were responsible for many of the cancellations of extra-curricular activities in recent years.

The president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, Kathy McVean, said extra-curricular activities should be in place in most separate schools. "We anticipate that our teachers will be involved in that. . . . It's a voluntary activity for them.

"They will make that decision themselves."

But the feuding in the school system is not over.

Ms. Ecker and her antagonists squared off over another issue yesterday: the government's plans to spend up to $6-million on an advertising campaign to publicize its improvements in the education system.

The minister insisted the advertising campaign is not a reaction to polls showing public discontent with the government's handling of the education system, including its decision to assist private schools through tax credits.

"These ads are describing government initiatives," she said of the campaign.

The campaign will include television commercials and a 16-page, full-colour brochure, none of which mentions the unpopular decision to assist private schools.

Ms. Ecker defended spending for the ad campaign. "We're spending $13.8-billion this year in our public-education system. We increased that this year by $360-million. I think an investment of $5-million to $6-million in keeping parents informed is a worthwhile investment."

But Mr. Manners challenged the ad campaign. "This money could go a long way to helping implement the new curriculum. It could hire a lot of teachers and educational workers."

The money could pay the salaries of 140 teachers, each receiving compensation of $50,000 a year.

Ms. McVean of the Catholic Teachers Association argued, "Higher standards would be much better achieved by putting some money into textbooks, so that every student could have a textbook."

Phyllis Bennedict, president of the Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation, said the $6-million "should be reinvested in the classroom.

"God only knows we need textbooks, we need computer supplies and we need more money going into the funding, so that boards can appropriately run their schools."

Liz Sandals, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, argued that the ad campaign is not designed to inform parents but is aimed at building support for government policies.

"The reason for spending $5-million to $6-million on some sort of nice, glossy brochure about how wonderful education is is to try to change the public's mind. . . . But the public isn't buying it," she said.

"The government is overestimating the gullibility of the public," Ms. Sandals said.

"Parents are asking, 'Why are they spending money on glossy brochures when I have to fund-raise to buy textbooks?'"

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