Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alliance meets with minister, holds inaugural mtg

Catching up to everything that happened with the Community Schools Alliance at the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference which ended Wednesday in Ottawa.
The CSA executive met with Education Minister Kathleen Wynne Monday for its allotted 30 minutes. CSA chair Doug Reycraft's assessment of the meeting is here. Another assessment is here. From the LFP piece:
Lobbyists were trying to persuade Wynne to change the process by which rural and under-enrolled schools can be closed. They have called on her to impose a "smart moratorium" on such closings until municipalities can be included in school boards' decision-making.
That assurance didn't happen during a half-hour meeting in Ottawa at the conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Reycraft conceded.
But Wynne did talk about the ministry's new draft policy that urges facility partnerships among school boards and municipalities and that was an "encouraging" sign, Reycraft said.
"I think we knew when we started this (alliance) it wasn't going to be a 100-yard dash but a marathon."
The minister's response, as phrased by Reycraft, doesn't in and of itself surprise me. The chances of her coming into the room and saying, "OK, sure. We'll freeze every planned school closure again for another few years-- against the recommendation of the very working group you sat on, Doug," was slim to none at best.
At the conclusion of the AMO conference, the CSA sent out a press release to media outlets regarding the enthusiastic support shown by delegates at the inaugural meeting. It also posted the PowerPoint presentation as a PDF to its main page. I'll take a moment here to quibble with a few things in that document:
  • P4 How we got to this point -- Funding formula, foudation grant and top-up funding for rural schools spent at board's discretion: Um, no. The ministry tells the boards which schools are eligible (based on distance from the next nearest school, usually) and the boards can only spend the money in those schools. (I am looking into this). Most southern Ontario boards get very little of this funding because the schools aren't far enough apart. As to the foundation grant, it provides funding for full-time principals and other staffing for all schools whose student populations aren't large enough to pay for one through the funding-formula ratios. Misrepresenting the way things work for a political end might work with those who don't know how school-board funding works, but it won't fly with me.
  • P5 The challenge -- These closures represent: If municipalities do nothing, absolutely agree. If they step up to the plate, not necessarily. See an example, here.
  • P8 CSA guiding principles -- This challenge must be solved by the Minister of Education and not school boards: Really? This contradicts the items on P4 regarding the loss of local control. Does the CSA want local solutions to local concerns, or the Minister to decide everything?
  • P13 Bill 177: Interesting, but I don't see the point of including this as part of a smart moratorium request. CSA believes the regulation-set standards boards will be held to will hasten the move to a singular school model across the province. Given the wide variety of school structures and organizations that already exists, I highly doubt that.
All that said, this was an important step in the evolution of the CSA if it is to become a viable and respected voice on school closures in Ontario. I was particularly encouraged the mayor of Burlington was appointed to the executive, showing the CSA's tent is broader than rural Ontario and providing recognition "community" schools exist everywhere. Up next, the CSA will be distributing MPP letters to councils so they can send them to their local members.


Anonymous said...

ER - I'm afraid I must quibble...Not long ago, I requested funding information pertaining to my school (which is part of the TVDSB), through the office of my MPP. The document I received back, which was sent directly from the Ministry of Education to my MPP's office states, "Although a school may generate funding based on being 'rural', the allocation of this funding is at the discretion of the board."

Have you seen an actual account of how and where the funds generated by rural schools have been spent at those individual schools? How is funding being spent on schools that have been targeted for closure by the administration? Also, is it possible to obtain an annual operational cost/student analysis of every facility operated by school boards like the TVDSB?

Education Reporter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Education Reporter said...

Sorry for the deleted post above-- I remembered something else to add.

I will take a closer look at this-- not something I've had to do in the past as none of the schools in my coverage area (except the Catholic high school) have ever been far enough away from the next-closest school to qualify for any rural/remote funding.
So, no, I have not seen an actual account of how funding is spent at designated rural and remote schools.
Have you?
Would you be willing to share it with me so I could then post it here?
I also an unclear on what you mean by "annual operational cost/student analysis" for every school in this board or any other.
Do you mean operating cost + salaries of employees vs. student enrolment? Or operating costs + salaries vs. the per-pupil funding the student enrolment would generate?
If it's the latter, that's an unfair comparison since the dollars any one student generates cover facilities, programs and services beyond the walls of the school they physically attend.
Please clarify.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response ER. I apologize for my lack of clarity.

In terms of the actual spending of rural funds, I have seen no documentation - I was hoping you had! I will contact the board office about this, but I asked the questions as well, to help illustrate a real concern.

I should have posed my last question differently, but if the factors you mentioned lead to unfair comparisons, yet they reflect the reality of the current funding situation, then how do boards begin to determine the feasibility of keeping certain facilities open and the need to close others, based on Ministry funding?

(I would be happy to send a copy of my Ministry of Ed correspondence to you at the newsroom.)

Education Reporter said...

If following the dollars is a true concern and you're getting the runaround, file a request to the board under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. $5 to file, and the answer isn't one that should be exempt under any portion of MFOIPPA I'm aware of.

As to the money in/out... I wish it were that simple. Boards need to do a better job explaining the full spectrum of reasons why a school gets pegged for a review-- enrolment, facility, program.

Where enrolment doesn't seem to be an issue, it's often program or facility driving the rationale. IE: the small school at capacity, but full of split grades and with no room to offer intermediate instrumental music, where the EAs supervise students because the teaching staff have whipped through their 80 minutes a week by Wednesday.

If it helps, although I'm sure you're already aware and familiar with these, I've found the valuation templates a great resource for financial, facility and program information.


Anonymous said...

The valuation templates are not the same in every board ER. I've been told contradictory information on this actually.

Some suggest that the Ministry directive was to be used to the letter while others claim that boards can be flexible on which criteria in the valuation they wish to use.

For example - our board did not use the EQAO scores in the valuation process but did use the fundraising information. Another board did use the EQAO information but nixed the fundraising.

Everything in that new accommodation review process can be left up to the interpretation of individual boards.

There used to be a time when all of that info. Anon. requested was available to the public through the Ministry and board websites.

Can't say as I've checked lately but it used to be broken down per board and per student so the public could see clearly how much was applied to classroom and non-classroom expenditures.

There are many games of Fun With Numbers being played these days.

I'm pretty sure our Retired Director can straighten us out on the rural funding issue?

RetDir said...

The nature of the grants is found in the technical papers, which are published annually and may be found at These are sometimes supplemented by ‘B’ Memos, which may be found at These are further elaborated on by SB memos, to which I cannot find a link.

There was a requirement for boards to report how the distant schools allocation was spent in 2003. Here are the guidelines from the relevant memo, SB 2003:21:

"As indicated in memorandum 2003:B17, school boards are required to publish a report for parents and taxpayers explaining how the new funding from the Rural Education Strategy will be used to improve supports for eligible distant schools. The report must be published by October 31, 2003 in the local press and on the board’s website. It must also be distributed to all school councils and provided to the local district office of the Ministry of Education.
Boards have the flexibility to determine the format for their rural education strategy report; however, as a minimum the report must provide:

• an estimate of the board’s total distant schools allocation (exclusive of the principals component) and the enhanced top-up for school operations,

• an explanation of how the board plans to apply these funds to provide supports for distant schools in the following areas: additional teachers, increased adult presence in eligible schools (principals, vice-principals, other teachers with administrative duties and secretaries), more learning resources and more resources to meet the operational costs of distant schools, and

• an explanation of how these supports will address the educational needs of the pupils in the distant schools.

If total spending for these additional supports among all eligible schools of a board is less than the new allocation for distant schools and the enhanced top-up for school operations, boards are required to place the difference in a distant schools reserve fund, to be spent on distant schools in a future year."

This was before this grant was supplemented by the rural component, and to the best of my knowledge no similar requirement ever existed for the rural component of the geographic circumstances grants. Judging from a quick search of some board sites for boards that qualified for the distance component, this reporting requirement may have been subsequently dropped.

I’m not sure what an FOI request for revenues and expenditures for a specific school would turn up. Boards aren’t required to submit that data (again, to the best of my now failing memory), and if they don’t compile it then they can’t produce it. As ER has pointed out, the analysis is not straightforward, and would include a number of assumptions that may or may not be consistent from school to school, and certainly won`t be from board to board.

Valuation templates were deliberately left up to the discretion of boards, as boards had to consult on what they would contain. Therefore they were anticipated to be different.

Hope this is useful.

Anonymous said...

Your explanation is terrific RetDir. but what it all says...the bottom-line isn't.

Essentially you're saying that it's as clear a mud.

I was actually hopeful after reading the excerpts from the memo you quoted from but that was fleeting as I continued.

Plenty of fodder for further investigation to be sure.

RetDir said...

I got clarification today on reporting requirements - essentially for monies inside the GSNs (which includes the geographic circumstances grants) there is no requirement to report by school, and thus it is highly unlikely that boards do school by school analysis. However, some EPO grants (such as community use of schools) do require reporting by school.