Saturday, November 13, 2010

Funding disparity coverage

I've been watching the news coming out of North Bay, courtesy of The Nugget, about a funding announcement Friday for schools in the Mattawa area. The paper had comprehensive coverage in the leadup to the announcement and then good reaction after the announcement -- see, in chronological order, here, here, here and here.
In a nutshell, the Near North DSB only received $1 million from the ministry for capital projects, while the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board and the French-language Conseil Scolaire Catholique Franco-Nord received about $6 million for two capital projects each board has on the go.
From the second piece:
We've been invited, but we've (trustees) declined the invitation, because we didn't get anything to satisfy the needs of this community," said (NNDSB trustee) Kathy Hewitt.
We're very disappointed something wasn't done for this school (F. J. McElligott Secondary School). They put money into two boards and not us. We know we're not getting it and we're disappointed."
In some of the subsequent coverage, we learn that the Catholic boards are a little further ahead in their capital planning on the two projects at hand. The French board's money is to bring the K-8 elementary school into the same building as an already announced and funded high school (the same thing happened just over two years ago in Woodstock). The English Catholic board's funding is also for a project that is already past the design stage. The NNDSB, which is losing students moving out to one of the new schools, is now faced with what to do with an aged, even-emptier building.
The first piece highlighted the difference in funding received by each board, with an explanation from ministry and board sources explaining that operating far-flung schools in this province's second language is costly. The NNDSB was being pushed to consider partnership opportunities-- but then there's no one speaking as to why the boards didn't continue this thought into the next frame. So it becomes a pissing match between boards and communities-- the public board with a history of better facilities (at the time they were built on the graces of commercial and industrial assessments) that are now aging and suffering from declining enrolment vs. Catholic and French-language boards that had always been poorer cousins of the public system prior to the 1998 funding changes. Combined with a government that's been happy to fund separate facilities for these boards -- witness the number of French-language schools moving from shared facilities and portables to new schools -- it creates disparities. It's the cost of ensuring French-language education rights are maintained however, amongst a community that tires of always having the second-hand and lesser facilities.
What's the solution? Is there a simple one?
Public boards need to be smarter about their accommodation-- they need to realize the ministry isn't about to fund upgrades to all their schools in an era of declining enrolment. The boards that have understood this have reaped the benefits of now almost three rounds of capital funding for new facilities and renovations. The ones who didn't get a jump on a solid capital plan suffer.