Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative
Trustees across Ontario want the province to lift a moratorium on school closures and that has some rural politicians concerned.
The Ontario Public School Board Association this week called on the Ontario government to lift a moratorium on school closures put in place om 2017.
At the time, the Liberals were facing political heat over local boards deciding to close schools with low enrolment moving students to another location.
One of the last schools to be approved for closure before the moratorium was South Plympton Public School near Wyoming.
School boards across the province say half empty schools are a drain on their resources.
“We appreciate this is a complex issue, but after six years our students and their families shouldn’t have to wait any longer for their schools to be built, repaired and renewed,” said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham. School boards have been balancing the upkeep of aging infrastructure, shifting enrolments and other financial pressures while delivering educational programming, she said.
“The current situation has created unsustainable funding deficits, as it costs the same to clean, heat, maintain and keep the lights on in a school whether it is half empty or full,” said Abraham. The OPSBA hopes the province can lift the moratorium by the end of the current school year.
But Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad doesn’t want to see that happen.
Dawn Euphemia School on Oil Heritage Road is most likely to close should the ban be lifted. It’s the only school in the municipality.. An already completed pupil accommodation report calls for the rural school to close and students to be bussed to Dresden where they would attend a JK to Grade 12 school in the Lambton-Kent Composite building.
Broad says lifting the ban and the eventual closure of the public school will have a large negative impact on his municipality.
One of the first things families consider when looking to move to an area is the closeness of an elementary school, he said.
Dawn-Euphemia Public School is the only elementary school in the township and having children split up and bussed to other schools will negatively affect the social fabric of the community, said Broad.
The mayor will be bringing forward a motion at the next Dawn-Euphemia Township Council meeting to call on the province not to lift the moratorium.
While rural politicians are working hard to keep the schools open, local educators have been saying for years they can only begin to fix some of the infrastructure issues if they don’t have to pay for upkeep of half empty buildings.
In 2022, the Lambton-Kent District School Board estimated only 75 per cent of the boards schools are used.
And there are a number of schools with less than 150 students. There were six elementary schools including Dawn-Euphemia Public School with 121 students and the Mooretown-Courtright Public School with 106 students.
Brian McKay, the superintendent of business for the public board, said in December, the empty spaces still cost money to maintain.
“We can turn down the heat in some areas of schools, but we can’t turn it right off,” said McKay, noting their continues to be a cost to keep all of the schools open at decreased capacity.