No school closures but more provincial control with new education bill

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Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

The Ontario government won’t let boards close schools with low enrolment but there will be a push to use the vacant space in existing schools.

Ontario’s Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, said Monday the province won’t lift a school closing moratorium which has been in place since 2017. Instead, he wants partnerships developed between school boards, municipalities and non-profit organizations such as the YMCA to better use some of the vacant space within these schools.

This could be a benefit for many of the schools, which are currently operating under capacity. Dawn Euphemia School north of Rutherford would be among the first to close if the moratorium were be lifted.

Dawn Euphemia has 121 students enrolled, just one of six elementary schools within Lambton Kent School District to have less than 150 students. The board has a plan ready to reorganize the Dresden school area. A report in 2010 called 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.
Local municipal leaders who worry the township’s only school could close, see this as a positive move.

“This (forcing boards to work with the community) should have been there 25 years ago,” said Dawn Euphemia Township Mayor Al Broad. In the past, the township council has looked at the school as a good place for a public library but this idea was shot down. Broad looks forward to getting something else in the school, which can benefit not only Dawn Euphemia but also people in neighbouring communities.

Lambton Kent School Board has a number of times called on the provincial government to lift the moratorium and allow for the closure of these schools with low enrolment. The Ontario Public School Boards Association again called on the provincial government to lift the moratorium by the end of the current school year after Lecce’s announcement.

Lecce tabled new legislation at Queen Parks April 17 called The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act. It includes plans to improve accountability for school boards, enhance training for educators and building schools faster.

“We are taking action to refocus Ontario’s education system on what really matters: strengthening reading, writing and math skills,” said Lecce.
If passed, the legislation would allow the minister of education to set the priorities for student achievement, then school boards would be required to update parents on the progress.

“We are in support of any initiatives that improve student achievement and well being,” said Ontario Public Schools Board Association (OPSPA) President Cathy Abraham. “The OPSBA has long advocated for improved accountability and transparency in the delivery of public education.”

Abraham was critical of the provincial government saying her association and school boards must be properly consulted on details of important changes to the education system, something which did not take place as this legislation was formulated.

The Ontario government has said nearly 2,000 front-line educators will be hired under the act.

The legislation also increases the main grant school board receive by 2.7 per cent. Inflation is running at about 6 per cent. Lecce says that will increase education spending by $694 million.

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