Saturday, February 6, 2010

Has the alliance lost its momentum?

A couple of quick thoughts on the Community Schools Alliance, formed back in the midst of late spring / early summer. Lately, along with a frequent poster in the comments sections, I too have been wondering what is ailing the alliance.
A Saturday reference in the London Free Press was the first reference I've seen of the alliance in my regular media scanning since the early fall. The LFP article by Pat Maloney touches on the ongoing er, conversation (?) between London city council / board of control and the local public school board. Thames Valley District School Board director of education Bill Tucker and London District Catholic School Board director of education Wilma de Rond will meet with council Monday to discuss city council's participation in accommodation review committees. As posted here last week, the ward councillor has steadfastly stated he wants to play no part in looking at options for the future of four schools in old east-ish London. He'd rather heckle the committee and the board from the sidelines than come to the table with options and potential solutions.
The Maloney article tells us Alliance chairman Doug Reycraft also wants in on that meeting between the directors of education and city council so he can peddle the 'smart' moratorium. A request that's pretty much been discarded by anyone with the ability to actually act upon enforcing it.
This after the very same council (London) pretty much did, oh, absolutely nothing with the Alliance's sample resolution and request for membership. I was in the room when Oxford County (Alliance members: Norwich, South-West Oxford, Zorra townships) voted to invite Reycraft to speak to council about the alliance's request. That was back in the fall and nor he or other alliance people have yet accepted the invite.
In the article Reycraft states, "about 150" municipalities have joined the Alliance and/or supported its cause. Of course, no one knows who they are because a full list has yet to be posted on the alliance website. There are over 440 municipalities in this province and to have only 150 on board says enough in and of itself. I would bet coffee and a donut far more than 150 have been impacted by the first two rounds of school-closure committees that have already happened in the last three years. Sure, the room was packed at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, but how big was the room?
I think it's time for the alliance to either step up, or step out and let those municipalities that are prepared to work with their local school boards to get some work done.


Anonymous said...


my municipality was and has been very much engaged by the school board both before and during the accommodation review. They voted unanimously with county council to join the alliance. So it's not just municipalities who aren't involved who support Reycroft.

I had heard that in the case of my immediate municipal reps. that they weren't satisfied with how the board answered questions during the ARC process, and, they felt in-line with the alliance's stance on the rate of rural, small town closures compared to the lack of closures in larger, urban regions.

Some time ago I wrote to Reycraft to get a comparison list of schools closed in urban centres with the number in small town, rural areas. He referred me to People for Education.

Because I've learned, the hard way, not to trust the People for Education numbers(usually inflated), I didn't carry on my search.

RetDir said...

I would guess the lack of support has more to do with the stance on the moratorium. Even the most die-hard supporters of local schools will agree that running schools at 30% occupancy makes no sense. The roots of the problem aren't educational, or the funding formula. The real problem is declining rural populations, and that is an economic issue that rural municipalities have been unable to solve, but in which the real answer to the problem lies.

Anonymous said...

"the real problem is the declining rural population"

I'm glad you phrased it like that because that declining rural population is(and will) reflect all aspects of rural municipalities. It's why the ELP will not work in most small towns and rural municipalities without throwing other providers under a bus. Eventually they too will see the effects.

Actually, our municipal daycare centre has just announced last week that it will no longer offer summer service. Just can't afford it based on need that's just not there.

Declining populations is not just a school also includes recreation, tourism, small businesses, home starts, and also the spririt of the small town.

I was in Stratford yesterday and can't remember it ever being so quiet on a Saturday. Then again, it is Feburary and cold out, but it was noticeable.

I do believe that the major players in small town and rural boards need to get creative and start a marketting drive to encourage business and settlement in their areas. Finding that niche market is something that every town is likely doing these days.

That schools and school boards should emerge unscathed is unrealistic.


Education Reporter said...

Darnit. I had a long, eloquent reply all typed out and then Blogger burped and it disappeared.

Anonymous said...

Interesting column by Moira MacDonald (TorSun) today ER.

According to her the TDSB is 10 years behind the school closure process.

Coming from a small town overseen by a small school board I have to say that there is a fairness aspect to all of this.

That the TDSB has dragged its heels is no surprise and it didn't just happen yesterday. If the past few TDSB boards had been doing their jobs instead of hopping on every political soapbox out there to fight with every provincial government in power, then perhaps its current board wouldn't find themselves in a very difficult position.

If, province-wide, small town schools are being dutifully closed and reviewed by their boards, but the large boards standing still, something's wrong.

If the number closed in small, rural towns is disproportional to those closed in urban regions, something's got to give.

Then again maybe it's wrong to look at this in comparison with other places?


Education Reporter said...


Part of my eloquent comment that got hijacked by Blogger yesterday touched on this. An analysis of the number of 'rural' school closures and reviews vs. 'urban' is frought with a series of complications.

As a small example, an urban school built years ago for 500 students may today only have 300 in attendance. Compared to a rural school built for 200 with attendance at 180, it's too easy just to compare the 200 vacant places in the urban school v. the 20 at the rural school.

That urban 300-student school still likely has better facilities (bigger gym, specialized learning spaces, etc) than the 180-student rural school.

Also, that 300-student school while not full, still has more student bodies to generate funding for staffing and other things. The 180-student school is just smaller.

Those aren't conclusive examples, just thoughts about how a pure examination of vacant pupil spaces in one geographic area v. another doesn't tell the whole story.

As to the TDSB, completely agree. They've been getting away with ignoring their own accommodation crisis because how how close they are to Queen's Park. There are plenty of ridings within the TDSB boundaries, something I'm sure all three parties are well aware of.


Anonymous said...

Hey ER - I hear what you're saying on the "rural" vs. "urban" implications.

There was a time when even in a riding like mine where there was an attempt to divide closures between "country" and "town" equation. The example being that if "x" country school closed then "y" town school had to close because that was fair.

Even among small towns the same divides occur.

Anonymous said...

- Hence the need for the province to get on with their review of the current funding formula. With the apparently substandard facilities and programming being experienced by rural students (many of whom already ride buses for hours to get to and from school each day), under a funding system that clearly benefits the urban dweller, what alternative do rural residents have...move to the city? Families still choose and need to live in rural areas and small towns. If they would try, perhaps officials could come up with a formula that better accommodates real life, instead of forcing the reverse.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 8 Feb. 14:56
While the gov't should be held to account as to why it won't meet its own commitment to a full review of the Education Funding Formula (now GSN) by 2011, let's temper that thought.

Over its two terms, the government has tweaked the formula substantially.
- creation of foundation grants outside the GSN that are provided on a per-school basis to recognize some costs that exist regardless of school size or location
- rural top-up grants, though admittedly these funds though generated by that darned zero in the second character of the postal code don't have to be spent in those same postal codes
- oodles and oodles of capital funding in the Good Places to Learn program for longstanding and needed repairs to facility, along with upgrades to improve efficiency and decrease operational costs
- inching towards transportation consortia. The day will come when these dollars don't even go to boards, they'll go from the province to the consortia directly
- a commitment to fully fund salary benchmark increases based on provincial discussion table framework agreements through to the end of now two rounds of contracts. That's in addition to earlier increases to the benchmarks themselves in realization they weren't meeting current realities.
- a commitment to change the declining enrolment adjustment amount, forcing boards to move much faster than they have in the past in dealing with surplus spaces and their attendant costs
- further tweaks pending as the government figures out how it will deliver ELP dollars to board through either the GSN or outside the GSN.

Admittedly, some if not many of these changes haven't erased the deficit of a 1997 formula. They've come a long way however.

With a year left in the mandate and a huge ELP to implement and a related year-two capital component, I don't know if now's the right time to release a full review of the GSN on boards and schools.

The recent calls for a GSN review are nothing more than another attempt at derailing school-closure reviews. As RetDir said here earlier, a review will likely produce formulas that could be even more unfriendly to small schools. We need to be careful what we wish for, and when we wish for it.


Anonymous said...

ER - I also believe that there are things that local boards can do beyond the whole money equation.
Some small boards out of necessity have learned to become more creative with their allocations, which they have little control of.

It's not always about that money trap, and if boards know what's good for them they'll work hard to solve their own problems locally because that is what endears a school community to its board.

A fate worse than yanking boards entirely would be total government control of them.