No matter where you live in Ontario, schools matter. That is why our government continues to invest in education and why we continue to build new schools – 400 since 2003 with another 170 planned or underway.
No other institution is planted so firmly in the hearts of communities and individuals as local schools. We all know that it takes a village to raise a child, and for most children, that village is their school.
But it is also true to say that it takes children to sustain a village or a town or city, and for many parts of Ontario —urban, rural, South, North, East and West—there has been a decline in the number of school-aged children for several years.
The results of declining enrolment are the same everywhere: once-filled schools are half empty and are dependant on subsidies from the Ministry of Education.
In this time of fiscal constraint, these subsidies are no longer an affordable part of our student achievement strategy. Ontario is asking everyone in the public sector to do their part to help bring down a $16 billion deficit. That includes asking school boards to take a look at underused schools and the possibility of school consolidations in order to re-invest in students.
This makes sense economically, and it makes sense for student achievement. Darkened classrooms and echo-filled hallways don’t make for an inspired learning environment. Schools and students thrive when there is a full and vibrant school community to support student achievement and a full range of extra curricular activities. As we have seen, consolidations can be very positive for students, parents and the community, but there is no denying it is a sensitive issue.
Respecting this, our government created the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline in 2006 (revised in 2009), which emphasizes community consultation, transparency and local accountability when making decisions about school closures. Only locally elected school boards have the authority to close or consolidate schools, but the Guideline —which boards are required to live up to—ensures communities are treated like the key education partners they are.
School consolidations are one of many difficult decisions we are asking of our partners in education. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that consolidations, especially those where distance is not an issue, can be good for students and invigorate a community.
Our government is committed to maintaining the results achieved over the past nine years in education. This means moving forward with full-day kindergarten, maintaining smaller class sizes, and protecting 20,000 teaching and support staff positions. To do this, we need our partners to join us in making the right decisions for students, even if those decisions are hard ones.