The explanation for why I almost tumbled will come in a couple of graphs... first, a few links to what was written. The story I saw was Moira MacDonald's column in Monday's Sun. I've just spent another 10 minutes looking for any other story online among the usual suspects and came up empty-- please mail me links if you find other stories and I'll add them. (Toronto Star story)
The declining enrolment crisis has been growing at the TDSB for more than a decade with 16 schools closed between 1998 and 2002 and a technical school closed last month. Toronto's Catholic board -- one-third the size -- has closed 21 schools. About one in five -- or 110 -- of the TDSB's 558 schools are below 60% of their enrolment capacity and on average are half-enrolled or less. The school board's overall enrolment is forecast to drop by another 20,000 students over the next 10 years -- the equivalent of about 44 elementary schools with 450 students each.Tell us something the rest of Ontario doesn't already know.
The board's new director, Chris Spence, agrees the board needs to confront the serious issue but also told me in an interview last week that creating "schools within a school" -- that is, housing several small schools or school programs under one roof -- could be part of the solution.
No question -- school closures are not fun, even when the reality of dwindling enrolment is staring you in the face. But the costs of the TDSB carrying its current portfolio of schools is hurting everybody through the financial drain that is spread among all schools struggling to stay lit, heated, cleaned and well-maintained on provincial grants meant to support a much smaller group of buildings.
Which is why I almost fell off my chair. I have been reporting on school closures since my first day on the job as a reporter -- even earlier as I wrote about them while still at Carleton University -- and have been covering ARCs since the ministry said 'go.' Many districts are into their second, if not almost their third round of accommodation reviews under these guidelines, released over two years ago. An updated version was quietly posted in June.
Pre-ARC (and possibly post, if the District School Board of Niagara hires Watson and Associates Ltd.), Watson told the Thames Valley District School Board it had the second-highest 'school vacancy' rate in the province. Guess who had the highest (in 2006)? Uhuh, the TDSB. School closures and ARCs were never going to become real to the movers and shakers in this province until the Ministry of Education cut off the revolving slush fund that "saves" the TDSB budget every year and its trustees were forced to look at some of their undercapacity schools.
I'm actually looking forward to any coverage that comes out of these potential reviews. It'll allow the rest of us across the province to learn that one's attachment to and engagement in a small-school community is more universal than many in small-school communities outside urban centres would like to acknowledge. It will allow Toronto to learn more about what happens in the schools under review. It will allow, if committees and trustees are creative, an opportunity to revitalize school facilities (admittedly fewer of them, however) in the areas of the city that likely need it the most.
It'll allow the rest of us to hopefully see Torontonians make the same errors, strike the same 'save our school' campaigns and live the ARC experience so many have already been a part of in our communities.
Hopefully the Toronto media (if not the bigger outlets, at least the community papers and other media) doesn't disappoint.
Bring it on.