CORNWALL – SDG Counties council continued to push the rural education file further along, formalizing a standing committee on education and hiring a consultant to prepare for any potential school closure reviews in the future.
SDG will work with Dr. Paul Bennett from Schoolhouse Consulting to create an action plan to move its rural education forward, and deal with potential school accommodation review processes.
Both the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario underwent pupil accommodation review processes in the 2016-17 school year.
Schools affected by the process, including consideration for closure, cannot be included in subsequent reviews for five years. That five year freeze ends July 2022.
Ontario has had a school closure moratorium in place since July 2017 but it is expected to be lifted at some point after the June 2 provincial election – regardless of what party forms the next government.
Bennett was the keynote speaker at the Rural Education Symposium hosted by SDG in early February. He has successfully battled school closures in the past as a consultant in Nova Scotia.
SDG will work with Bennett to build on the report released last fall by education consultant Monika Ferenczy for the Counties. That report offered 10 changes or reforms that would help support rural education in SDG Counties and in other rural areas in Ontario. These focused on transportation, funding, and program equity imbalances between urban and rural school.
Bennett will refine the Counties’ existing work, preparing short and long-term plans, including assisting with a possible meeting between SDG officials and Ministry of Education at the Ontario Good Roads Association conference in Toronto mid-April.
Counties CAO Tim Simpson said members of the education committee were impressed with Bennett from the symposium in February.
“He’s given us a proposal. He’s going to get working on a very crisp, very succinct, action plan of what our priorities are,” Simpson said adding that Bennett’s expertise will help SDG get ahead of any possible closure action that might take place in the near future.
Councillor Stephanie Jaworski (South Glengarry) supported hiring Bennett saying that the committee has done a lot of work and has momentum.
“It is something that takes a lot of resources and a skill set that is pretty unique,” Jaworski said. “We are very fortunate that Bennet has that skill set and expertise and I think working with him will help us be as efficient and as productive as possible.”
Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) who co-chaired the education committee with Jaworski agreed with hiring Bennett.
“Dr. Bennett is someone who has gone down this path before so if we look at efficiency, this is definitely an opportunity to hire someone who isn’t going to spin his wheels, has a plan in mind, and will give us a crisp plan. Now we’re ready for action.”
Bennett’s consulting fees, approximately $5-6,000 will be covered by existing reserves. Council approved up to $20,000 for funding for the committee.
Council also voted to formalize its current education working group, which has been an ad-hoc committee of council consisting of council, lower-tier council representation, and lay appointees from the community.
Once the terms of reference are adopted, this committee will become a standing committee of council, codified in the Counties’ procedural bylaw. This means for the balance of this term of council, and into the next term (unless removed) the committee will carry the same weight as council appointments to the Police Services Board and the Shared Services Committee with the City of Cornwall.
Gardner said adding the education committee as a formal standing committee of council will give residents a “sense of consistency regardless who sits around the council table.” The terms of reference will be presented at an upcoming SDG council meeting.