Rural Education Symposium: Rural Ontario needs its schools.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-07-06-pmMy speech from the Rural Education Symposium November 26, Parkhill Ontario, North-Middlesex
Rural Education Symposium (http://www.ontruraleducation.com) speech
Moses didn’t come down from the mountain with the Funding Formula…
The current Funding Formula was written by the Conservatives and modified many times by the Liberals…so there’s plenty of blame to go around, but I’m not interested in blame…I’m interested in change.
What I want you to think about is that the Funding Formula, School Boards, the Ministry of Education, Municipalities were ALL designed by US to serve US.
If they are not doing what we want then we change it, and that’s what I want to talk about: change.
I never had any plans to become a Councillor, I worked as an Engineer for 10 years, I’ve been a Stay at Home Dad for 10 years, about 4 years ago I started my own Engineering business from home, but then… the Thames Valley District School Board began considering the closure of A.J. Baker P.S. in Kintore…my kids school. I got very involved with the community effort to “Save AJ” and really enjoyed and got great satisfaction from the community involvement. So I put my name forward for Council.  Also during the “Save AJ” fight, I got to know Doug Reycraft and the Community Schools Alliance, and as a result got on the Executive of that group to help Doug revive and reinvigorate the CSA.
During that fight I came across one of my favourite quotes: “Fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the SAME, fair means everybody gets what they NEED.”
This has guided me in a lot of Council decisions and I bring it up today because it is especially relevant to this issue.
A Funding Formula that doesn’t recognize the inherent differences in rural and urban in a Province the size of Ontario is giving everyone the SAME but no-one what they NEED.
Consider an example outside education. My sister lives in Toronto, just off Yonge St. just North of the 401: there’s a LOT of traffic.  So let’s say the City consults with the Ministry of Transportation for ideas to improve the traffic flow in an intersection. The MOT collects data, analyzes it, simulates solutions, and presents a solution to the City of Toronto Public Works: multiple lanes each direction, right turn ramps, left turn lanes, traffic light sensors, etc. The City of Toronto likes it and implements it and a year later everyone loves it: traffic is moving, commuters are happy, businesses are happy, residents are happy.
About this time the County of Oxford calls the MOT to consult on an intersection in Kintore…they have some pedestrian safety issues they’d like to consult on. The MOT thinks this is great we have a PERFECT solution and they race down to present their “City of Toronto solution”…
Of course the Oxford County Public Works people think this is crazy. They tell the MOT that it’s just not relevant to the issues they have. The MOT comes back with the same proposal again: after all they KNOW it works, they’ve done it, they have the data.  Again, Oxford says no, this is not a solution for the problem we have…again the MOT says this is the best solution…
Eventually Oxford sends them away and goes with their 4-way stop and a hanging flashing red light and some painted cross walks…
Clearly the same solution doesn’t work for the MOT in different Municipalities, and it doesn’t work for the MOE in different Municipalities either:
Back in 2015 about a tenth of schools in the Province were more than half empty, in the TDSB it was almost double that.
Last year in the TVDSB 5035 of 8844 Elementary Empty pupil Places were in the City of London.
The same solution doesn’t work at the MOT or MOE…if it did…TDSB & TVDSB wouldn’t have as many empty schools in urban areas as they do, and rural Ontario wouldn’t be losing schools it needs…
In a PAR introduced at the TVDSB on November 22 according to Senior Administration in order to satisfy the MOE Funding Formula and get the student numbers needed to build 1 school in South East London they would have to affect 12 rural schools (including 4 closures).
Rural is literally being asked to sacrifice to accommodate urban growth. 
Why? Because of the Funding Formula…
Under the current Provincial Policy Statement rural Municipalities protect Prime Agricultural Land.
In Zorra we’ve said not to residents wanting 2 acres for a family member…
We’ve said no to solar farms even if a large part of us wanted to say yes…
Because protecting Prime Agricultural Land is important.
The other side of that deal is that urban Municipalities densify and in-fill and make better use of their infrastructure.
However…
Recently the Town of Ingersoll approached Zorra wanting to annex 200 acres of Prime Agricultural Land.
Cities are growing by about 1% per year — a lot of it because of immigration and natural population growth — while rural numbers overall are staying steady.
The deal wasn’t that rural protect Prime Agricultural Land and LOSE our schools to urban growth…
Rural is protecting Prime Agricultural Land and being punished for it.
Ontario needs a different MOE Funding Formula for rural as part of deal to protect Prime Agricultural Land.
We need a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are reality of rural life…
This IS NOT to say that Toronto, London and other urban areas don’t need, or aren’t deserving of, schools. Simply that the same Funding Formula for urban and rural doesn’t work.
Same solution doesn’t work at MOT or MOE…if it did…TDSB & TVDSB wouldn’t have as many empty schools in Toronto and London, and rural Ontario wouldn’t be losing schools…
 
Ontario needs a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are reality of rural life and rural is doing it’s part and deserves a fair deal.
To me the next fundamental issue is who should own schools?
School Boards always owned schools because they were local.  The decisions of where to build or not build, and where to close were made by people in the community with a keen awareness of the consequences of these decisions.
Everyone knew their Trustee and the system was highly accessible, transparent, accountable, and democratic.
But those days are gone:
– Boards are too big with too many schools and communities for Trustees to be expected to make truly informed LOCAL decisions.
– the MOE makes all curriculum so Boards have almost no say in that
– the MOE negotiates contracts…
– Boards can’t raise funds themselves, so the MOE controls funding…
All this results in Boards that are NOT accessible, NOT transparent, NOT accountable, and NOT democratic.
So, you could try to fix the School Boards…
But why?  Why have School Boards?
School Boards should be absorbed by local Municipal governments.
Lower and Upper Tier Municipal Council & Staff are WAY more accessible/transparent/accountable/democratic than the School Boards.
But how would you do it?
The Ministry of Education already negotiates the majority of contracts, and sets the curriculum. 
Municipalities would have a Department of Education just like they have Planning Departments, and Departments of Public Works, Public Health, Recreation, etc.
Where would the Staff come from? We’d hire the Staff doing the job at School Boards now.
School opening/closing decisions would be made in coordination with Planning Departments AS THEY SHOULD BE.
Forget Hub Advisory Committees, there would be no no “silos” around Ministries, Hubs would create themselves under Municipal control BECAUSE IT MAKES SENSE at a local level to coordinate these things.
I need only hint at the possible cost savings of absorbing School Boards into Muncipalities…
So…
Ontario needs a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are a reality of rural life, Ontario NEEDS rural, and rural is doing it’s part and deserves a fair deal.
And we need to put the decisions about school buildings where they belong: with accessible, transparent, accountable, and democratic Municipal Government.
Or…put another way
We don’t want the big fancy intersection…
…we want our 4 way stop and our flashing red light.
Because “Fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the SAME, fair means everybody gets what they NEED.”
 
And rural Ontario needs it’s schools.

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