COLUMN: Closing schools won’t fix education woes

To say waking up Tuesday morning to the news of school closings was a shock would be an understatement.  As a parent of four kids who attend elementary and secondary schools in the Upper Canada District School Board, this writer’s response was likely as direct as many other parents. It was also filled with many words that cannot be used in print.  We’ve been through this process before at the UCDSB with their Boundary 2020 plan eight years ago, yet the problems have not been solved.

Step back and look at what the problems are. Rural schools in eastern Ontario are suffering from declining enrollment. That is no secret.  Many rural high schools have minimal numbers in each grade level to be able to offer classes in certain subjects or disciplines.  These schools have resorted to online e-learning to get the students the courses they require before attending post-secondary schools. Lower enrollment means less funding to the schools.

Board administrators state they do not get enough money so they cut in the budget.  Educational assistants are cut, teachers are cut, other staff are cut. The budget is balanced for the year, in fact there is a surplus posted and yet there is still not enough money.

If one continues to cut at the schools, students will leave the board. Faced with the prospect of a 45-50 kilometer bus ride to the nearest high school, how many parents and students will opt to change boards? Especially at the secondary school level, it is not hard to switch schools. This should not be something school board trustees and administrators want to find out.

If funding is the issue, has anyone thought of lobbying for changes to the funding formula? Surely the UCDSB is not the only rural board that faces this challenge? The board could try to work with other boards to get the province to fix the funding for students.  This route should have been explored well before proposing to close schools and throw the entire student population of the board into a panic about where they are going to go to school next year.

There is still time for the UCDSB trustees to put the genie back in the bottle and put the brakes on this poorly handled issue.  Voting no at the September 28th meeting would do that.

Choosing to stand up for the schools and students the trustees were elected or acclaimed to represent would do that. Going to bat against the province’s flawed funding model would do that. It is something the trustees should do before even considering one more cut.

It is easy to keep cutting back, it’s harder to fight for something. Parents facing their children’s schools closing are prepared to stand up, are trustees and administrators with the UCDSB willing to do the same?

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