MPP says speak for rural schools even if hearing ‘smoke and mirrors’

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Sarnia Lambton MPP Bob Bailey thinks an upcoming provincial forum on rural schools may be “a lot of smoke and mirrors” but he’s urging parents and municipal leaders to voice their opinions anyway.
The Ministry of Education is hosting a forum at the Thedford Arena May 24 to “discuss and share ideas about how to best address the unique needs and challenges that rural and remote communities face,” according to a news release issued this week.
The forum is expected to focus on “ strategies to support and improve student achievement in rural Ontario… to leverage schools and school board resources for the broader benefit of rural communities… and how education funding could better recognize the realities of rural Ontario.”
The news release says the ministry is “committed to working with municipalities, schools and school boards, parents and other stakeholders to explore opportunities to enhance the quality and delivery of education in rural and remote communities in Ontario.”
But Bailey is sceptical of the hearings which are taking place across the province. “I always want to be optimistic but to me, it is too little, too late,” he tells The Independent. “A lot of these closings are already taking place.”
Bailey points out the provincial government started talking about fixing the funding formula in 2011 and “here we are today talking about declining enrolment and funding.”
Bailey believes the government set up the “listening tour” after facing tough questions about reports that up to 600 schools were slated for closure in the province.
The minister of education says only 300 closures are likely.
That could include small rural schools like Dawn-Euphemia School.
The municipal council there has been trying for years to encourage the school board to change boundaries to bring more students to the rural school and has lobbied the province at every turn, most recently going to a finance hearing to voice concerns again about a funding formula which leads to school closures in rural areas.
In Plympton-Wyoming, municipal leaders are lobbying to keep Aberarder Central School closer to home. The school is one of a half dozen to be merged in Forest if the province comes up with $27 million in funding.
Officials from Plympton-Wyoming want the students to be allowed to attend Errol Road School, which is just minutes from their homes instead of being bussed to Forest.
Bailey believes the forums are likely meant to “take the heat off” the government.
“Will this lead to anything? I don’t think so. The government has taken a lot of heat on this…this seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors and optics.
“It is a little late to be doing the consultation now.”
But Bailey is urging the community to have their say, just in case the government is “ legitimately listening.
“I would encourage people to attend – tell them… exactly how it is going to impact you and your family and your community if your school closes,” says Bailey.
“And I would urge community leaders to tell them what it is going to do to your communities.”
The forum is slated for May 24 between 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm at The Thedford Legacy Centre.

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