What’s the TDSB? And why does Michael Sims care?

A few weeks ago we were contacted by Michael Sims, who had seen our profiles of other Ward 19 candidates, and said he was running for the Toronto District School Board in Ward 10, which, in the school boards regions, is a combination of Wards 19 and 20. Would we like to meet him?

To be honest, I had no idea what the school board does. So I figured I’d go and learn about him, and about what the school board does.

For those like me to whom this is all news, the school board is responsible for assigning the budget of the public schools in Toronto. They are also responsible for broader policies within the school system. In the past, the board had actual taxing authority, but the Mike Harris government removed all that, so their job now is to help allocate the money they receive.

The school board doesn’t sound like a job one would really vie for unless either you care deeply about the board, or you’re a retired teacher looking for something to do. It pays only $26k per year, and you get to endure the harsh criticism of parents who are trying to ensure the best education for their kids. You don’t have a whole lot of control, as you have to deal with union issues, and it can involve some long nights at meetings. Even campaigning for the position is a struggle. With little budget and an audience of over 100,000 it’s almost impossible to get even minimal name recognition.

In a municipal election, it’s the mayoral candidates who get all the mainstream press. Even the local council candidates have a hard time getting things written about them or get a chance to get their policies viewed by a third party (although sites like ours have started to change that). The school board is well below the radar, so most voters go to the polls not knowing a thing about their school board candidates.

Michael Sims seems to be taking the job because he cares. He’s got three kids in the school system and is a recent immigrant to Canada from the United States. While he doesn’t have a lot of political experience, he did work on one project with Joe Pantalone which encouraged local artists to paint ugly gray telephone boxes to try to reduce the graffiti. His background is probably quite different from most school boarders. He’s an ex computer programmer and journalist and has worked for the famous site Slashdot (a geek news site). One of his platforms is to encourage more open source technology in the school system in order to reduce costs.

Another platform he talked a lot about was reducing or eliminating the need to sell off school board assets for underused spaces. In New York, where he emigrated from, when populations came back in certain areas, or the demographics changed in a region, they’d have to rent space in commercial buildings, with no play spaces or other features important to a school.

He also voiced strong opposition to having any corporate involvement in the school system – keeping public school public.

Michael is blogging about running in the area through his site here. (gotta like his WordPress theme!)

Michael is running against incumbent retired teacher and principal Chris Bolton. More on him if we catch up to him in the weeks coming up to the election.