Keep our cherished local schools
On Tuesday March 7, 2017 I took the opportunity to watch the Ontario Legislative Special Debate and Vote, calling for an immediate moratorium on rural school closures, and an immediate review of the Pupil Accommodation Guideline. I did so with apprehension, as usually these exercises become akin to nothing more than a school yard brawl, complete with bullying, name calling and out and out misrepresentation of facts (you can enter lying here if you wish). Well it wasn’t far off the mark and even though they all somewhat agreed that the funding formula was the main reason our Ontario schools, both rural and urban, are being shuttered at an alarming rate, they tried to push the blame on each other’s party. What they fail to realize is that, we, the electorate know that they are all to blame for this travesty.
It was unfortunate that, neither Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal, who was puffed up like a rooster on his first outing to the hen house, nor the opposition parties, highlighted Chesley District Community School’s accomplishments. Rather than recognize the strong track record of the school, he chose to further espouse the virtues of his Party’s feel good policies, in concert with Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month.
The small but mighty school, ranks 65th out of 740 secondary schools province wide, as reported by The Fraser Institute. It has unquestionably one of the best agriculture programs in all of Ontario, if not North America. This secondary school embarrassingly so, is currently under the scepter of closure. The closure of the secondary part of the school, disbursement of its students to other areas, and loss of this program would be a colossal mistake, forever attached to those making the decision (read trustees).
There was mention of Beavercrest Community School in Markdale and Chapman’s most generous financial offer to save the community’s only school, based on Chapman’s future planned expansion and the expected community’s expanded workforce. A dream come true for a cash strapped school board. Make no mistake the lack of school funding by the Provincial Government is placing the tough decisions regarding school upkeep or as some correctly point out the lack thereof, squarely in the lap of the local school board.
Yes, “wee” Paisley was mentioned, and why shouldn’t it have been, as it is faced with the same threat of closure as the above mentioned community schools. And as with Markdale, Paisley Central School too has an exceedingly bright future (unless you take trust in the outdated and erroneous Watson report). The Bruce Nuclear Power Development’s massive “Main Component Replacement Project” has begun only 30 km from Paisley with an expected workforce expansion in the thousands, yes that’s correct, thousands of new employees, who’s influx will benefit all communities of the surrounding area, including Paisley Central School’s student population that will, once again, be busting at the seams.
It was a shame, but not a surprise, to see Premiere Kathleen Wynn’s government unanimously vote against the school closing moratorium. I found it oddly coincidental, (in a pig’s ear), that the day before the debate and vote on a school moratorium that The Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter, in a letter dated March 6/17, copied to the Ontario Public School Boards Association, as well as her other colleagues, announced the government will launch an “engagement on new approaches to supporting education in rural and remote communities”, starting this spring. Will this be another, “after all is said and done, more will be said than done” scenario? That’s just around the corner, but that may be too late for the 3 schools currently under review!
The only remaining path, which has been cast at the feet of BWDSB trustees, will require them to walk tall, and take courageous actions by sending a no-holds-barred message to the Ontario Government and Opposition Parties. That message is: We in rural Ontario will not harm our children/students nor decimate our communities via school closures and we will not buy into our Provincial Government’s funding ruse, by agreeing to do their dirty work. Perhaps such action will drive the Government’s planned new spring engagement to actually effectuate positive educational change for rural areas and in the meantime keep our cherished locals schools in their respective communities, where they belong!