Who should decide school closures?

I wear three(!) hats on this issue: as a resident whose children attend A.J. Baker P.S. in Kintore in the Thames Valley District School Board, as a Municipal Councillor in the Township of Zorra, and as the Vice Chair of the Community Schools Alliance.
The position of the Community Schools Alliance is “to have municipalities become partners with school boards in making decisions about where new schools are built and where schools are closed.”
To that end we have made several delegations (through member Municipalities) to the Minister of Education including a very positive delegation I presented at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference in Ottawa in August (https://www.facebook.com/CommunitySchoolsAlliance/posts/1440354912712622).  Specifically I asked the Minister to engage in a “wide ranging consultation process, with all stakeholders including a variety of community groups, and Municipal Governments, to fully consider the significance of schools to rural, northern, and single school communities in developing the policy changes to the Funding Formula and PARG to end the Moratorium.”
I pointed out to the Minister that while schools are not “capital A” assets of Municipalities, they are “small a” assets.   Without our schools Municipalities cannot be complete communities that truly have the ability to plan and develop our future.
This delegation was very different in tone to past year’s delegations, it was open and consultative.  But the proof will be in what type of policies the Minister proposes to end the current Moratorium.
I encourage you to lobby your local Municipal Governments to become members of the Community Schools Alliance and help us to continue to fund research on this topic and advocate on their behalf.
Both personally as a parent, and as a Municipal Councillor, my position is a bit more far reaching: I believe that the decisions about where schools should open and close should rest entirely with Municipalities.
Municipalities have Planning Departments that do exactly this type of work.  Municipalities have Public Health Departments that have a wealth of knowledge on building vibrant, healthy communities.  Municipalities already build the majority of infrastructure in Ontario.  All these functions (Planning, Public Health, infrastructure, and Education in our communities) would be better achieved by having Municipalities control where such a vital piece of community building infrastructure as a school should be.
I know some people would argue that it is too big for Municipalities to take on, but I disagree.  Currently all capital funding is provided to School Boards by the Ministry of Education; transfer that to Municipalities.  Already almost all contracts with Education Staff are (at least initially) negotiated by the Ministry.  The curriculum is almost entirely written and mandated by the Ministry and only administered locally by Boards (and in my opinion not very “locally” as most Boards are too geographically large for their to be legitimately local understanding).
So I believe that not only are Municipalities capable of adding an “Education Department” to Public Works, Public Health, Planning, etc., I think that it would in fact result in better planned communities, more integrated communities, and more local knowledge and democracy in school opening and closing decisions.
All of these topics, and more, will be discussed in an open forum at the 2017 Ontario Rural Education Symposium being hosted this year by the Township of Zorra on Saturday November, 25th in the Embro Recreation Centre.
MOE Staff have confirmed that they will be attending to hear input on the recently announced policy changes…
I hope to see you there too.
2017 Ontario Rural Education Symposium:
To register:

Marcus Ryan
Councillor Ward 3

Mobile: 1.519.301.1634
FB: Marcus Ryan – Zorra
www.communityschoolsalliance.ca
FB: Community Schools Alliance

6 thoughts on “Who should decide school closures?

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  1. Halton District School Board had a city councillor sit on the Parc committee and did irreparable harm to the city of Burlington! Why would we want to do more harm to this city?

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    1. That’s too bad. No solution is perfect, I’m certainly not suggesting mine is. I do think, based on my experience in an ARC and as a Municipal Councillor, that this solution would be more democratic, transparent, and accountable than the current one.

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      1. I am from Burlington where we have recently completed the PAR process, 22 days prior to the provincial moratorium. The experience here was not a good one as we had a councilor on the ARC resulting in what may consider political ambition and influence in the process and final decision. The ministry has granted two accommodation reviews of the PAR however, it is interesting to note that a previous review facilitator recommended city hall be removed from the ARC roster.

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      2. Too bad. The new recommendations are to include more Municipal participation and I support that.

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  2. As a past founding Director of the Community Schools Alliance and now, strangely, the Chair of an English Public Board, I read Marcus Ryan’so comments with interest. I absolutely agree that municipalities should have representation on PARCs. As to other suggestions, I make the following comments : All those who support the closure of your local school, please raise your hands. All those who support a tax surcharge to keep your local school, please say so. It is suggested that every municipality could have an Education office. In my Board, a single school will serve as many as 8 municipalities. Our Board Trustees have taken the time to meet with most of our councils – before the creation of the Community Partnership and Planning guideline was created. In fact, I brought forward a motion at a Public Education Seminar recommending this process. Please stress the need for ongoing dialogue with your local trustee. Finally, with the greatest of respect, I discovered as a Trustee that quick fix solutions are easy to offer – until you are fiscally responsible for carrying them out. Our Board has seen enrolement drop by just under 50% since 1998, yet there is a demand that no school should ever be closed. As fast a new construction is concerned, try holding the Ministry accountable for ensuring 4 boards are working together to make the most effective use of taxpayer dollars in building new space. One would think that should be a no brainer.

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    1. Great points, taking them one at a time:
      Personally I would be willing to pay more to have children educated in their community. However, I also think (having reviewed the GSNs) that there is enough money to achieve this without increasing taxation (for example: move the “top up funding” entirely over to the new RNEF).
      I would suggest that in addition to the Board responsibility of school closures being given to Municipalities that the Boards be broken into smaller units coterminous with the upper (or single) tier Municipalities.
      Your Board is yo be commended for that level of consultation with Municipalities, but in my experience talking with residents and Councillors across the Province this is the exception rather than the rule.
      I do not suggest this as a “quick fix”. I come at this from 2 years of trying (successfully) to save our school, and 3 years on Council. In that time I have worked closely, and consulted, with Doug Reycraft and many other experienced Directors of the current CSA. I contend that if Municipalities took over the responsibility there would be only one “Board” in each Municipality: amalgamation would happen as a matter of course and make cooperation between boards redundant. My proposal would make my Municipality fiscally responsible for the situation. I have been in two delegations to the Minister, presenting one myself, trying to convince her to make changes. This is not rhetoric, or a vague shaking of the fist that “somebody aughta do something”, or “anything’s better than this”, I have researched the history of the situation in Ontario, consulted with others, and researched these solutions in other Countries. I very much think these changes would be better.

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