COLUMN: Four school systems are three too many in Ontario

MORRISBURG — In Ontario we have a French-language Catholic school system; a French-language Public school system; an English-language Catholic school system; and an English-language Public school system. Having four school systems in Ontario to choose from is a needless waste of money that more harm than good, especially in rural schools.

The French Catholic and French Public boards have 100 per cent French language in their schools, one with religious instruction, one without. The English Catholic and English Public boards have mostly English instruction, and a core-French program. Except the English Catholic and English Public school systems now run French-Immersion programs, which offers more 5o per cent English, 50 per cent French instruction, competing with the French Public and French Catholic boards. Why are publicly funded school boards allowed to compete against each other? Because it is Ontario.

Catholic schools, French or English, are suppose to be for students of the Roman-Catholic faith. Every year, more non-Catholics are enrolling in Catholic schools, which is allowed by Catholic school boards to boost numbers for certain programs such as French-immersion. Catholic secondary schools are allowed to have any student attend, regardless of religion, which was a condition of getting full funding for Catholic secondary schools under Bill Davis. It is not supposed to be allowed at the elementary school level.  In many rural communities though, the Catholic school is considered the better school. Not only is there competition between all of the publicly funded school boards, even within individual boards, schools with French-immersion programs are considered by parents to be better schools then those schools only offering core-French programs. It is an unfair stigma to attach to schools, but it happens frequently.

What this is doing is skewing the school systems and adding needless waste. One community will have the Catholic school expanding while the Public school is contracting, due to losing students to the Catholic school. The same English-Public school also loses students to the neighbouring village school which offers a French-immersion program. That school is bursting at the seams, having to add portables to meet the classroom needs. The busing costs for shipping kids from one town to another is expensive, which has led to staggered school times so that the transportation departments can do more with less. Having a child get on the bus at 7:10 a.m. does not make them very eager or happy to learn.

Geographic boundaries within amalgamated school boards still exist in many cases. These boundaries lead kids to be bused longer to the school that was in the old, smaller board, while busing to a closer school is not allowed as they used to be part of a different board.

Competition between Catholic and Public boards, English and French, has caused the “traditional” rural secondary schools to have to have more online-based learning because the enrollment numbers do not support more classroom learning-based courses for students.

School board amalgamations were suppose to cut bureaucracy and duplication, leaving more money available for front-line education. The exact opposite has occurred. Schools are dealing with cutbacks in support staff, Educational Assistants, special-education testing and resources every year, but there are plenty of staff in the board offices. Instead of cutting bureaucracy, it has grown.

If the school systems are all to teach the same curriculum, does it not make sense to have only one system?

The province needs to first look at removing religious instruction from schools, eliminating the need for two of the four school systems right away. Not just Catholic instruction, but any religion instruction or concessions, and have that return to where it belongs, in the church, mosque, temple, and/or home. Religious education is the job of the parents and religious institutions, that is where it should be done. Other provinces have had constitutional amendments passed changing Cection 91 to remove religious schooling; Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have done this. Quebec consolidated education on linguistic lines, Newfoundland and Labrador unified their system of seven different school systems into one secular system.

With English schools offering French-Immersion, there is little need for a split on linguistic lines. You do not need two separate bureaucracies to administer programs that both systems are capable of doing..

Eliminating religious instruction and the linguistic split means that all school affairs can be run by one board of education in each area. Based on need and aptitude, all elementary-level schools should have a French-immersion program available, as well as a core-French for those who either do not want it, or are unable to take it. In communities where French is the dominant language, English-Immersion programs should be offered in the schools. Surplus School property then can be rationalized within areas.

Boundary lines need to be erased to allow easier access to schools closer to a local. This would reduce transportation costs and the need for staggered school starting times.

By merging four separate systems of management into one, the attrition within board offices should more than pay for the increased resources within the schools to help with the backlog of youth requiring help with special needs and other issues. Selling off surplus, shuttered property would help with that as well.

Rationalizing four separate, but equal, school systems into one would present some challenges, but the end benefits of lower administration costs, more localized schooling, improved class resources and program offerings would offset any challenges. It would provide better learning for Ontario students.

 

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