Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Draft policy

So, I was able to get a copy of the draft policy Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne presented to Community Schools Alliance executive at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa on Aug. 17. The cover letter and draft policy are posted over on my GoogleDocs account.
First things first, this is a draft policy. From what I understand, it has been distributed to boards (per what's in the cover letter). The requested return date is this fall, so this policy should then come out as either a policy/program memoranda (PPM) or B-memo once it's finalized and approved.
To address a point in a comment from a previous post, this draft policy clearly is aimed at school boards (which makes sense, since the Ministry of Education has little business telling municipalities what to do). Its intention appears to be to use the distribution list in the Reg. 444/98 and tell boards that when, through the capital plans they would be required to complete (per declining enrolment group and other recommendations), they identify surplus space, they look to public-sector partners to see if there's an opportunity to fill that space.
It doesn't replace community use of schools, which is primarily aimed at ensuring school spaces used during class time are made available for community use outside regular class hours. This is an attempt to add a few more tools to the box (or perhaps encourage boards to be more aware of the tools already in there) for boards as they deal with unused space.
From the draft:
Boards are to create a list of space that is suitable for community facility partnership and a list of potential co-building opportunities based on their facility partnership policies (see below). This is the information that will be provided to potential partners through Ontario Regulation 444/98 and through the new notification process outlined below.
The Ministry encourages the sharing of facilities and co-building, between co-terminous school boards where boards are able to better utilize existing space and protect the integrity of their programs. Regarding new construction, boards typically work together on a case-by-case basis, sometimes facilitated by the Ministry. The memo assumes that board-to-board facility sharing remains a priority for our school boards, since school facilities are best suited for use by students.
Boards are expected to hold a community meeting at least once a year to discuss potential facility partnership opportunities with the community and to listen to what needs or plans community partners may have. Boards are expected to notify the entities on their notification list and the general public about the meetings. Boards that cover a large geography may want to consider holding meetings in more than one community. The Ministry recognizes that this process will be most effective when community partners notify boards in a timely manner when they are looking for space or considering new construction.
However, I think the key part of the draft policy for many boards will be this:
School boards will be expected to remove the capacity of space occupied by community partners from their on-the-ground capacity (my bold emphasis). The Ministry expects that rent or fees will cover the operations and capital cost of using the space borne by the board, net of available top-up funding. In co-building, partners will be required to pay for their share of construction.
Where there are additional costs to perform minor renovations to protect student safety, provide appropriate washrooms, and otherwise make the space suitable for use by facility partners, the Ministry expects that cost to be borne by the partners.
I would guess in areas where there isn't much sharing and co-operation between boards and other publicly funded groups, this has been a frequent reason why. However, by allowing that surplus space used by another organization to be removed from the board's on-the-ground capacity, and indicating any lease agreement cover the utilities and maintenance costs, the financial risk disappears.
It'll be interesting to see how this draft changes between now and when its finalized version is published.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this ER.

I read through the draft and at first blush have to say that if I were a board which had worked hard over he years to develop effective partnerships with my municipality this legislation would strike me as punitive.

I must also wonder about those boards who have lagged behind in the building or partnership department and what the heck they've been doing for the past number of years.

I can already predict my municipality's response to this.

There's a lot of feel-good, window dressing here that still doesn't quite address the fact that having fewer children affects recreation and other offerings in small towns in addition to it affecting schools.

Both our Catholic and public boards have partnered with town facilities already, without the assistance of legislation. It was a needs based, and very local initiative.

In my town the impetus on keeping that YMCA full and useful is as much a challenge as keeping our schools and daycare numbers up.

I'm going to chalk the draft of to being a "nice try" but it certainly does not recognize those boards (and municipalities) that have gone the extra mile and have formed pretty good alliances.

When the leadership from both groups create the kind of environment that welcomes partnerships it makes acting together much easier.

Education Reporter said...

I don't really see how this policy is punitive. It doesn't remove any existing partnerships in place. It is built on encouraging boards who don't to start doing so.
The removal of the OTG is a huge component, one that I think will get those boards who don't partner taking another hard look at their vacant space and eyeballing their communities.
For those that already do, how does this policy change anything? Chances are when they've formed partnerships involving school space in the past, they've consulted the same list that's in Reg. 444/98.
Perhaps I need a better explanation. Reply or e-mail me.


Anonymous said...

Maybe punitive isn't the correct word ER.

The point I'm trying to make is that in a town like mine where we just lost one school, a major employer, and still have to pay for a new recreation facility, library, and medical centre.

The decline of children affects not just schools but almost every other program and service we offer.

How many ways can we stretch my tax dollar? How wide can we spread fewer and fewer kids?

Both my area boards did good jobs in partnering with the municipality out of necessity and local innovation.

It's been that way ever since I can remember.

I don't think that this policy is for small/rural boards who are similar to mine.

It's policy being written for the others.

Anonymous said...

If my experience with government driven policy is any indication the "draft" policy often doesn't resemble anything close to the finished product. Once the Minister's advisors and bureaucratic hierarchy has its way that is.

Not holding my breath that this will do what common sense should.

RetDir said...

Not sure how this changes things, really. Certainly not punitive, and probably not directive enough if they want shared space. Having the partners pay the full cost of operating the space they use will quell board concerns - no idea off the top of my head if this makes economic sense for potential partners. My underlying sense is that this is more optics than substance.

Unknown said...

The draft policy makes reference, 2 or 3 times, to the presumptive expectation that boards are cooperating or building partnerships with each other first. As a parent I'd much rather see excess space filled with people from another school board, not staff from organizations that have nothing to do with education of school aged children. I understand that Ontario has 4 publicly funded school systems and that they all have a constitutionally based legal right to their autonomy, but the MoE could certainly use financial incentives to strongly encourage their better cooperation. I value CSA's efforts to protect the publicly funded assets of their communities,, but in their shoes I'd push for school board partnerships rather than bringing other services into school facilities. For the children's safety and for the benefits of a focussed educational milieu, the Ministry needs to suck it up and keep financially incentiving board partnerships.

Education Reporter said...

I completely and totally agree with Paula.
I say that as a Catholic-school graduate who supports a single publicly funded educational system -- with French and English as the distinction and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

You may agree with Paula, but the fact remaines that the Catholic School system in enshrined into the Constitution and therefore the seperate school system has every right to keep it that way, they fought for this right over many-many years and I do not think that they will give that up.
And don't think that politicians don't know this also.