A couple weeks ago, Trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) decided to defer a rate increase for church groups that rent their public school facilities. The increase, which would have disproportionately raised rents for church groups by as much as 800%, sparked an outcry from local church leaders when it was first announced in September 2012. In response, the TDSB waived the rate increase until January 2013, and has now voted to defer it again until September 2013.
While this deferment is welcome news, the decision to re-categorize religious groups that meet in public schools has not been reversed. This means that starting September 2013, the rent subsidies provided by Ontario’s Ministry of Education no longer apply to churches. Religious groups are the only group being disqualified from these funds, even though these subsidies are designated to ensure “access and equity in use of facilities.”
Hundreds of churches across the city are impacted by this decision. Lisle Memorial Baptist Church, a CBOQ church that meets in a public school in the Jane-Finch community, was handed a rent increase from $9,157 per year to $44,390 per year before the rate hike was deferred. But with the huge increase looming again this fall, they’ve begun to seek out alternative meeting locations in their community.
Audley Goulbourne, pastor of Lisle Memorial Baptist Church, now encourages churches in other cities to get involved with the policy process before decisions like this are made: “We found we weren’t at the table and didn’t have a voice with the TDSB. So we have to get engaged in the process of decision making, and be more proactive in understanding the systems so we can influence policy in the future.”