Opinion Editorial

Vigilance needed to oppose school closures

That it all comes down to money is, for the moment, a good thing for those opposed to public school closures in Simcoe County.

Because the lack of provincial funding seems to be the over-riding reason why there's been, at least, a stay of execution for high schools in Elmvale, Midland, Penetanguishene, Collingwood and Stayner.

The Simcoe County District School Board says there's no funding to build a new secondary school, in either Wasaga Beach or Elmvale, needed to replace the aging and overcrowded Elmvale District High School.

And since Ontario's Education Ministry has a fiscal setup that channels control of all school funding through the province, local school boards cannot control their revenues.

Even though local property tax bills have an education component, school boards can't dictate whether it goes up or down. The province does, and the education portion of property taxes has not increased for more than a decade, perhaps longer.

Some see this as a needed control on education spending, while others see it as a roadblock to improving Ontario's school system.

Those who oppose closing Simcoe County schools, and who jammed the Midhurst education centre this week, are no doubt happy about the funding shortfall.

Parents, students and residents have found they have few real weapons when it comes to fighting education boards closing their schools.

This process has been a prime example.

In March of 2008, an accommodation review committee -- ARC 'B' -- was struck to recommend to the board how to handle the future of five high schools: Stayner Collegiate (SCI), Penetanguishene Secondary (PSS), Elmvale District (EDHS), Midland Secondary (MSS) and Collingwood Collegiate (CCI).

School board officials have said it would cost more than $23 million to bring schools in Elmvale, Stayner and Penetanguishene up to standard

And after numerous meetings, this ARC recommended last May a five-school option to keep all five schools open -- including a replacement school in Elmvale.

But school board staff instead presented a three-school solution: keeping CCI and MSS open and building a new high school in either Elmvale or Wasaga Beach.

It was this action which trustees have decided to postpone indefinitely.

This isn't necessarily a victory for those opposed to school closures. It's just a battle won, not the war.

Trustees will eventually have to make a decision on these schools, although there are already indications that it might be the next board of trustees, not this one (there are municipal elections in 2010).

The problem with school closures is that trustees seem to look at the issue with dollar signs in mind. They have a budget to meet, as deficits are forbidden.

But students and parents look at it from an emotional point of view. They don't want to lose their school. Students get displaced, relationships are affected, not only with other students, but with teachers, as well.

There's also the notion that property owners have paid their local taxes, their provincial income taxes and understand that a portion of provincial sales taxes fund education.

Why isn't there enough money for their school?

The only thing residents, students and parents can do to influence school closing decisions is to remain vigilant. They have to stay informed and understand how to have their voices heard.

And also to remember that school closings are often about money, and little else.

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