Enact an immediate moratorium on Ontario school closures

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Enact an immediate moratorium on Ontario school closures

This petition had 1,031 supporters
Bill Templeman started this petition to Ontario Liberal Party and

An Open Letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne:

February 26, 2014

Dear Premier Wynne:

During a February 18th CBC radio interview, you said that you want to make Ontario’s government open and transparent to the electorate.  As this openness and transparency is a laudable goal that you take very seriously, how about looking at the shocking lack of openness and transparency between Ontario’s Ministry of Education and the public? 

The Ministry is currently enabling school boards across the province to close schools, presumably as a way to save funds and improve programming in the face of low-enrollment. There are six problems with this policy: 

1)  Recent research finds that school closures and consolidations frequently do not save money.  Please click here to see this research.  The Ministry has chosen to ignore this research.

 2)  The same research finds that the large, consolidated schools that are often the result of school closures produce inferior academic and psycho-social outcomes for students compared to smaller, neighbourhood schools.  Again, the Ministry has, to date, ignored these findings.

 3) When local school boards close neighbourhood schools and are criticized for damaging the economic health of communities, board officials proclaim that they “are not in the community development business”.  So the Ministry continues to enable the closing of neighbourhood schools, leaving a trail of deteriorating communities such as the downtown neighbourhoods of Welland, Sault Ste. Marie, Hamilton and Peteborough.  When a neighbourhood school closes, particularly in a downtown area, local businesses suffer.  Residential property values fall.  These school closures are in violation of Ontario’s Places to Grow legislation, yet the Ministry of Education seems to be exempt.  Places to Grow emphasizes the importance of creating strong hubs for economic development, the delivery of services and the building of communities.  Families with children need local schools.  How can these hubs be developed without schools?

4) The Ministry has embraced an ineffective strategy for dealing with low enrollment.  The easiest response is to close schools and bus students to larger, consolidated schools.  But the easiest response is not the best response in terms of cost efficiency and student development. A much better strategy is to develop shared-usage arrangements with appropriate community agencies to use vacant rooms in schools.  Libraries, seniors’ programs, daycare services and community recreation programs could rent space from school boards.  Communities would gain services, keep their schools, students would avoid long hours of busing and sufficient space for new students would be available when enrollment begins to rise.     

5) The Ministry’s funding formula is driving irresponsible financial behaviour by school boards.  In 2003 the Liberal government took over control of funding from school boards for the construction of new schools.  School boards can now ignore making repairs to existing schools, thereby allowing some schools to deteriorate to the point of being prohibitive to repair.  These boards can then request funding from the Ministry for the construction of new schools without sustaining any loss to their own local budgets.  The costs for these construction projects are passed on provincial tax payers as opposed to local municipal rate payers.

 6)  The Accommodation Review Committees (ARC) mandated by the Ministry to provide school boards with fora for community consultations over proposed school closures are a waste of time for all concerned.  These highly contrived public relations exercises should either be re-designed to include legitimate democratic decision-making or be abolished

Again, please appreciate that the above points #1 through #4 are based on research findings which the Ministry has chosen to ignore.  What is the point of closing schools if these actions do not save money or provide better learning outcomes for students?  The often-touted rationale for creating large, consolidated schools is that educators can offer a broader range of course offerings to students.  Again, this rationale is not supported by the research

We request that your government enact an immediate moratorium on current and planned school closures.  Ontario can no longer afford to build throw-away schools and engage in extensive student busing.  Let us instead renovate and maintain the current building stock of smaller, neighbourhood schools.

 

Respectfully yours,

Bill Templeman, 301 Boswell Avenue, Peterborough, ON, K9J5G2

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