Editorial – Public not private data

This week, SDG County Council heard an update from education consultant Monika Ferenczy on the county’s education plan. This inititative, which began this spring, was to be ready in August, but only a draft was at council. Ferenczy said that one of the big issues holding back the final plan is the lack of data from three of the four school boards that serve SDG.

That data – requested but not delivered – concerns key metrics on a school’s operations, viability, and its relationship to the wider community. None of this information is confidential, yet three-quarters of the schools boards protect it like Fort Knox.

To its credit, the Upper Canada District School Board has a long-standing policy of making this information easily accessible. The School Information Profiles provides over 30 categories of data for all 79 schools in the board, including its 17 schools in SDG. For example, Seaway District High School was at 55 per cent capacity in October 2020; the utility costs per pupil at Morrisburg Public School are $30 cheaper than the board average; the longest bus ride for an Iroquois Public School student is 44 minutes. Good data is invaluable when looking at SDG schools, trying to create solutions to help their long-term viability.

That type of data, and any other information has not been received from the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (French-Public), and the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (French-Catholic). Why?

School boards must collect this information to send to the provincial government. Boards use this information to apply for funding and capital programs. The three boards which ignored requests for information have had no issue with yearly funding, we know they have done their homework.

Provincial officials including local MPP Jim McDonell have been asked for help getting this missing data. No response so far. When three-quarters of the page is blank, it is difficult to design a plan for the future of rural education.

This data is public data. Those boards are funded by the Government of Ontario. There is no good reason for the three non-English-Public boards to be secretive with public data and to restrict it. There is no good reason for the provincial government, which has said it wants to make rural schools more viable, to fail to get this public information.

If three-quarters of the “education partners” are unwilling to share, and the province cannot, or will not, compel a response, how successful can any county plan be?

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