Friday, October 29, 2010

Anti-closure backlash pending?

With this week's (neglected) trustee elections, I've been thinking about whether Ontario will see any sort of dramatic shift on school closures. Moira MacDonald pointed to it in her coverage of the races earlier this week, noting the Toronto District School Board's newer and reelected trustees have the drive to keep putting off the board's accommodation and capacity issues.
Following the candidates who were running in my district (meaning the one I voted in and would have been reporting on were I not on this fellowship), I didn't get the sense that the 'anti-closure' candidates won. They didn't in my ward-- the one public and one Catholic candidates running on more or less of an anti-closure platform weren't elected. Of three trustee spots, two went to longtime incumbents and one went to a newbie, who has never to my knowledge campaigned against school closures.
Within the City of London (same educational district as where I voted), all six incumbent public trustees were reelected on Monday, despite some bitter battles in some city neighbourhoods over the school closures there. Further, the board will look to strike more school-closure reviews within the city proper in this next term than it has in the last three years. In the Catholic board there are many new faces, but it's due to retirements not school-closure related issues.
I haven't looked into the Simcoe County boards, but trustees in the public board put off a heated decision on five high schools in the county's northwest for the new term of trustees and I'd be curious if this was any sort of a defining issue in the campaign.
A comment earlier this week pointed to a belief that school closures would just stop some time in the next year as the Liberal government doesn't want an election campaign while trustees are voting to close more schools. I don't buy it. Here's why:
  • School-aged populations outside of the GTA continue to drop
  • The government isn't about to do an about-face and start funding renovations and technology upgrates at schools with small populations
  • I don't see the Liberals going easy on many boards (OK, perhaps a few) when it comes to budgets, and will force them to consolidate and then use 'savings' to cover FDK expenses.
As it was in the last term, I suspect many eyes will be trained on the Toronto boards. That's how it should be since the TDSB has largely avoided the world that every other Ontario board has been living in for the past term. Despite Monday's election or perhaps in spite of it, these issues are not going away.


Anonymous said...

According to the numbers ER, two 'newbies' came in ahead of the incumbent in your 'ward' or town, in spite of his work in helping to bring many millions of dollars in education investment to the town itself. Then again, perhaps you've moved! Note that in the areas of the county hardest hit by school closures and the planned demise of the county's landmark Museum School (which has been neglected by the TVDSB in terms of care and promotion), the incumbent did not fair well.

While it didn't help that the large article detailing all 5 candidates' platforms was published in the local paper 5 days after the mail-in deadline for ballots, I'd say many voters informed themselves as best they could. The incumbent's win was by no means a landslide, with much of his support coming from his home turf. The combined votes garnered by the 2 anti-closure candidates I'm aware of totalled 62% more than the those earned by the incumbent!

The candidates who won in Oxford, are known names/individuals who've run in the past and just might owe their victories, in no small part, to that fact.

No - the issues surrounding school closures are definitely not going away here in Oxford County!

Education Reporter said...

Anon 2 Nov. 14:04:

You're right on all your math about the incumbent and his challengers for the TVDSB spots in Oxford County. I won't dispute that because I agree.

However, that same math could perhaps serve to underline the population differences that underscore part of the rationale behind school-closure reviews. With the anti-closure candidates garnering the majority (or at least a plurality) of votes in the south of the county and elsewhere in the rural areas where schools have closed, they still didn't outnumber the votes coming in from the city and elsewhere.

I can't speak to my newspaper's coverage of the election as I'm at Massey College and was not involved in any way.

While I don't agree on the withdrawal of the small amount of board support provided to the Museum School, I might also ask whether or why the township (which provides a lot of important support to its archives and museum) doesn't step in to preserve this important rural school museum. It is a good fit with the existing programs and services offered several concessions to the south.


Anonymous said...

Hugo - You know that there are population differences because in rural areas, fewer homes exist per square kilometre due to the existence of precious farmland. This land is protected from development in Oxford County and therefore, villages and small towns tend to stay small. People living in these areas and on serious farm operations are raising families - people don't tend retire to these places.

So what this math underscores as well, if we assume few voters in the urban areas voted for the anti-closure candidates, is the need for a rural education strategy in this province and the need for school boards with 'the parts' to help bring it about.

You may consider this a dramatic, sweeping statement, but there seems to be a movement to 'shut down the countyside' - 'All hail suburbia!' You've said yourself that the last thing we need is 'another school in the middle of a cornfield' and that of course is true, but what is under threat now is the vibrant 'community centre' school within the small town and village - schools which are 'right-sized' for their rural communities and performing very well, but falling victim to urban-centric funding and the resultant 'one size fits all' attitude.

Let's be fair. Thames Valley's jurisdiction is diverse... Please honour that Trustees and represent us all.

BTW Hugo, you are badly needed back at the paper...

Education Reporter said...

Anon 4 Nov. 19:08
Can't argue demographics, they are what they are once you've accepted them. On the question of rural schools, I think we need to do a better job at finding the mix that works-- something that is fairly neutral to student numbers (within reason, without triple-grading classes, etc) and provides access to the same level of facility and program that a larger school (regardless of location) provides. It needs to have rural municipalities at the table too-- if the building was built larger and is now under capacity and the municipality wants the school to remain, it needs to come to the table with proposals that would offer services through the school to keep it a vibrant community hub. I think we also need to stop talking about rural schools-- it's not their rural location that makes them a target, it's their student populations, and to a lesser extent, their physical facilities. So-called right-sized smaller schools exist everywhere from rural cornfields to cityscapes. Their successes and challenges are not unique to geography.

Losing a school in Princeton begat a 300-400-pupil school in Drumbo. That move certainly abandoned a presence in Princeton, but it doesn't compromise rural education as a whole-- it would have if all those kids had been bused into Woodstock. The board also fought the ministry on that choice-- the ministry wanted to put all the Drumbo and Princeton kids in Innerkip. I would argue the new Blenheim District PS is a great example of the right-sized school you refer to. Hickson Central PS is as well, as are Plattsville PS and Tavistock PS. Even in the ARC underway in Norwich, there's lots of opportunity there to recommend something that wouldn't see all three schools closed.

It may not feel like it to those who've lost a school and had kids sent to newly consolidated sites, but the examples just in Oxford show it hasn't been a one-size-fits-all philosophy. If it was, every school in Oxford would be like Algonquin, Harris Heights or the new north Ingersoll school and they're not.

As to surprise over anti-closure candidates, I was surprised the one Catholic candidate didn't garner more support in Woodstock-- after the ARC there is working on a recommendation that would keep the Princeton Catholic school open and close the school his kids attend.

Don't hold anything against my colleagues. If I had remained and one of the other reporters had been on fellowship for eight months, we'd be facing the same challenges covering the same number of things we were covering before.