First, let me quibble with some of the data. Assembling this information on school closures, accommodation reviews and 'replacement' schools across 72 boards is challenging enough, and ensuring it remains current is also a challenge. There has to be a cutoff or the report would never get published with the constant changes taking place. That said, in a board I'm very familiar with, there are currently five reviews underway (two of which are now before trustees, with a few more not far behind), and these are not encapsulated in PFE's report. The number of replacement schools is also underreported. I also quibble with the chart on page 5 showing 5,000 students are needed to fund an educational assistant. If this is truly the case (I've not gone looking into the funding formula to verify) then how do boards manage to place at least one EA -- if not full-time then part-time -- in every school?
The focus on closures was the greatest foible of the reporting I was able to see on the report as well. Let's all focus on the number of schools closing and not provide the full context as to why, nor the context of what happens to the students in these closed / closing schools. Let's ignore the fact that in some cases, the replacement school -- though larger and perhaps not as local as its predecessors -- provides a vastly improved learning environment. Which is ridiculous, given the report is only 14 pages and actually includes some of this context on page 2.
Now as to the report's actual content?
PFE wants a review of the funding formula -- which was promised by 2010 (now 2011) by the government. It wants that review to re-align those elements of staffing and maintenance (etc.) still dependent on pupil populations reaching a certain threshold. From the report:
Before the review of funding, the Ministry of Education, in co-operation with Ministries such as Children and Youth Services, Health, Health Promotion and Municipal Affairs should:The school size one is interesting given my recent exploits. PFE suggests high schools in the 600-900 range, which per our definitions earlier this week would actually be "medium-sized" high schools. This is also a range where many boards are currently able to make high schools work under the current formula.
- examine research on optimal school size;
- investigate the impact of a community hub model on things like overall health promotion, neighbourhood viability, youth violence and poverty reduction; and
- develop policy and funding to support and promote integrated planning and schools as community hubs.
PFE is bang on when it says Ontario is falling behind on the development of community hubs in its schools. Where this hasn't occurred naturally due to geography or by intent due to construction in times where childcare or other services were integrated, we've fallen behind. The abandonment of any further expansion of the Best Start program after the federal government pulled its cash out of the initiative to fund measly childcare credits for families has put Ontario behind.
The report also fails to address how the recent "surge" in school closures is directly tied to the moratorium on closures requested by former minister Gerard Kennedy. That request, which virtually every board in Ontario complied with, created a backlog of issues -- school physical condition, population decline, etc. -- across every board that wasn't dealt with from December 2003 until well after the new guidelines were released in October 2006. Many boards also spent a lot of time (and money) subsequent to the release of those guidelines preparing capital plans. Kennedy said he was going to personally review each of these, but moved on to other pastures before most were even submitted. His successors at the ministry backed away from that commitment, making the capital plans working documents subject to continual change and approval from ministry staff members.
The end result was that it was at least another academic year after the guidelines were released before boards had their own internal policies and procedures prepared and aligned to begin tackling a backlog of school accommodation issues.
This as during this time many boards' largest grade cohorts began moving from elementary schools into high schools. The next four years will be even more telling as student population declines begin to stabilize in elementary but hit high schools hard and comparatively fast-- remember the declines had eight to 10 years to move through elementary schools. The impact will be felt in a four- or five-year time frame across high schools.
Is a review of the funding formula needed? Yes. It should be continually reviewed, with major updates every five years or so.
Does the province need a community hub policy and practice? Yes-- desperately.
Should all closures be abandoned until this is figured out? No-- this strategy has led us to where many boards have been in the past two academic years and another moratorium will only create more challenges than the closures it may actually prevent in the long term.