It is easy to blame Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and her party for the mess we’re in with rural education. They are the ones who cut the funding top-up to rural schools, and set the policy for how school boards close schools.
To be clear though, the Upper Canada District School Board are the ones who have enacted the provincial policies this way.
There were other approaches the UCDSB could have taken to deal with school closure issues. Board administrators had other options than the one they chose.
Other school boards in Ontario have taken more consultative approaches to dealing with school closures. Take the Thames Valley District School board. Before launching their Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process, that board held a consultation period with the public. They discussed the challenges before them, sought input in an open and transparent manner. Then a draft proposal was created and now they are in the ARC process. Parents in that board are still fighting school closures, but from the start they were consulted with, and became part of the process.
Closer to home, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario entered into an ARC process for closing schools in Cornwall. While it mirrored the UCDSB method of springing the process on to the public unawares, that board has been far more consultative with their process. At that board’s ARC meeting last week in Cornwall, the public was allowed to ask questions from the floor.
Contrast that with the UCDSB. A micro-managed comment period, micro-managed meetings, no public comment or questions allowed at public meetings. Everything must be submitted in a “mother-may-I” format exactly how the UCDSB powers that be wish. Follow the process is often heard from board officials.
The UCDSB ARC process was founded on a draft report that had as many omissions as it has facts. To the point that some trustees are on record as having no confidence in board officials due to the draft report.
People fighting the closure of rural schools have to remember who the real target needs to be to save the schools here in South Dundas. Yes there is a battle to pick with the province, but that time is not now. Expressing concerns to the province and signing petitions is important, but until the June 2018 election, that’s all that can be done at that level.
The school board level is where the fight to save South Dundas schools have to take place. The UCDSB chose to enter the process in the way it has, and the ability to save schools lie at that level.
The community needs to stay focused on that.