Friday, June 19, 2009

Orillia ARC decisions

The Packet & Times keeps up with the developments at the Simcoe County District School Board as it reaches its summer break and some key decisions on some accommodation reviews that are coming to a close. Reporter Nathan Taylor first moved a shorter story Wednesday night, a longer one that was up until some point Thursday (no live link remains) and then the final press version was posted later on Thursday.
The local ARC, made up of volunteer members representing high schools, businesses and the city, began to review Orillia’s three public secondary schools more than a year ago. Well into the process, there was a “fine tuning of what government priorities are,” given the economic decline, said Carol McAulay, the board’s superintendent of business and information technology services.
The province wants to ensure school boards are shedding excess space before approving the creation of new ones. That’s not a revelation, but it is a position that’s “more pronounced than it was before,” said Lou Brandes, associate director and superintendent of facility services.
The province likely views the local ARC recommendations — closing Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute and Park Street Collegiate Institute, and building a new school — as “non-urgent” capital projects, McAulay said. Non-urgent projects are to be put on hold.
The two schools are aging, but have been well maintained, she noted.
Trustees are now concerned the ARC, following a government-created consultation process, might have been misled.
This piece is helpful to explain the way Ontario is funding new school construction (and some changes heading down the pipe in Bill 177). First, some brief history.
In the Gerard Kennedy days, he asked boards to complete five-year capital plans, committing to personally reviewing them himself. Boards hired consultants, scrounged, public inputted and furrowed their brows for a year working on the plans, which remained on Kennedy's desk when he left to seek other entertainment at the federal level.
It was during Sandra Pupatello's tenure, whose stint at the MinEd was relatively short-lived, that boards were told the minister would not be reviewing the plans, but that the ministry would keep the information and use it to determine priority funding for capital projects.
Fast-forward a bit and the ministry developed a 'capital liquidity template' for boards to develop and submit for all new school, reno and expansion projects. Why?
All of this construction is being financed by the province on 25-year terms. The ministry approves the projects and then each year forwards the board money to cover the financing (most if not all of which is actually financed with the province, so it's all pretty much internal). The ministry wants to make sure the boards have the student base to support the cost of financing the new construction, since it's coughing up all the dough.
"Non-urgent" projects will be put off until the current cash crunch is over, so the ministry, province and, sort of by relation, boards, don't overburden their debt loads.
Bill 177 would further change these areas, introducing new rules for how boards can issue debt.

As to the ARC's recommendations and trustee decision? It's unfortunate they thought this vote would bring an immediate winfall. The lack of immediate funds doesn't change the overall reasons and need for completing the review.