Saturday, August 13, 2011

Anyone else doing the math?

This came to mind this week as I covered a pre-campaign event in Brantford, centred on energy bills. I was chatting with a staffer in the local PC candidate's campaign office and was mentioning how a former candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party nomination in my former coverage area (Oxford), a trustee, very quickly mentioned the government's investment in schools in the riding.
A colleague at the Sentinel-Review had asked this very question earlier this year and was working on an article (that I do hope she publishes at some point) in regards to what the dollar value of capital (not including Good Places to Learn and school-renewal funds) investment in schools is within the riding.
Given some institutional memory, I was able to rhyme off some very quick numbers to reach a number between $85 and $90 million between the three local school boards.
I wasn't that far off-- the number is approximately $92 million invested since 2001.
In a nutshell, that includes a new K-12 French school opening in September, a new K-8 school on a greenfield site, a new K-8 consolidated school and significant expansions to 12 other elementary and two high schools. With one exception, these projects were all since moving away from the old pupil-places capital funding program under the PC government from 1998-2004 to the various capital funding schemes that have existed since under the Liberals.
As an example, the town where I reside (Ingersoll), as of the completion of construction later this year, will have no K-8 school whose facilities haven't been significantly rebuilt or built since 2003. There's some $20 million to $26 million of school construction and renewal in this village alone since 2002-03.
In the riding overall, that's not a bad record to be running on given the last new school to be built in the riding prior to the current government opened in 1996. A big part of this is how aggressively the Thames Valley DSB moved to go through school-closure committees (the board has completed its third round of these, ahead of any other board in the province that I'm aware of) and work with the province to secure capital funding so that every student displaced by a school closure was moving to a school that was in better condition and a better physical learning environment than the one they left.
Before you start typing the "but" comments, I am very aware this came at a cost.
The new schools and expansions happened after the closure of nine schools since 2005. Communities that had a school in some cases no longer do-- one township (South-West Oxford), had a K-3 and K-8 school in its northern stretch and as of this fall will have none in the entire township. In a locally very controversial move, a 9-12 high school with between 200-250 students at the time was closed in the Village of Norwich. The impacts of those decisions can't even be measured yet, but will start to become visible over the next few years.
The point here is who's out there doing this math? Off the top of my head and without doing some digging, I wouldn't be able to state what the number is in the riding where I now work (Brant). I wonder how many other reporters out there would ask the same questions, regardless of who currently holds the riding.
These numbers might be interested to know and would add another education discussion to the election conversation that, as far as education goes, is looking like it will be all about implementing full-day kindergarten.


Anonymous said...

I would also ask these questions ER.
I'd also go further and ask about any savings found with the closures, which was a big reason for closure in my region. I'm skeptical that any savings were found, but, you guessed it - playing fun with numbers is the name of this game.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 16 Aug. 22:58
I'd agree with that analysis, and the figures should be around even if it requires some digging or FOI-ing to get at them.

After a full year or two operating the new / consolidated facilities, it should be easy enough to do the comparison.