Chamber Speaks Out On School Closures
Recent estimates indicate that close to 600 schools in rural and northern communities across Ontario are under the threat of imminent closure. Locally, and across Ontario, the Chamber of Commerce network has deep concerns that actions to close these schools are being made without due consideration of social and economic impacts.
It’s our position that removing schools from communities like Sparta and New Sarum would have a very negative impact on our local economy, not to mention the impacts in terms of marketing them to young families as attractive options to live, work and play in.
Saturday May 6, at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce convention in Sarnia, we joined with our colleagues to adopt a resolution supporting a moratorium on closures and for organizations including the Chamber to be engaged by the school boards to consult economic impact.
Locally, in what the London Free Press and the St. Thomas Times-Journal termed “one of its largest school-closing shakeups yet”, the Thames Valley District School Board is wrestling with recommendations to close the schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield here in Elgin. Trustees vote on May 23. The Sparta school would be the first to close, but be re-purposed as a French immersion school.
Elsewhere, the Bluewater District School Board, which covers Bruce and Grey Counties here in southwestern Ontario, could see the loss of one-third of their institutions. The Upper Canada District School Board in eastern Ontario could lose 29 schools over the next two years.
The Ministry of Education’s Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines serve as the province’s minimum standard that school boards must utilize to develop their own policies for accommodation reviews which lead to decisions on school closures. Changes to these guidelines were completed in 2015 which require Boards of Education to consult with municipal and community organizations prior to making any final accommodation decisions, however there is no similar requirement for any analysis on local social and economic impacts.
David Thompson, chair of the Near North District School Board, indicated to TVO in a program originally broadcast last December that “you close down a school in a small town and kids suddenly spend hours on the bus going to other communities,” also noting that long commutes leave little time for students to engage in extra-curricular activities.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has been a strong advocate for ensuring that provincial arbitrators, when making decisions on contract disputes between municipalities and police/firefighter unions, ensure that economic conditions and the ability to pay within a municipality are formally evaluated and considered. The same principles should apply to potential school closures to ensure board trustees reach conclusions based on wider community economic and social impacts.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, with a network of Members in rural, northern and urban areas across the province, provides strong credentials for assisting the provincial government and individual school boards on assessing the affects of school closures on their respective communities.
As an example of the relative importance of school closures for the rural business sector, Chapman’s Ice Cream in Markdale has offered the Bluewater District School Board a donation of $2 million to build a new school in the Markdale-Flesherton-Dundalk area of Grey County. The firm has also committed to providing 10 acres of company property for a building site north-west of Markdale.
Ashley Chapman, Vice President of Chapman’s, has indicated that closing the current Beavercrest Community School in Markdale would “have such a detriment to my business I can’t even tell you.” He further added that if the local school closed, it would not only be a problem for the community, it would limit the future growth of his business.
Chapman’s plan to expand their workforce by up to 1,000 employees over the next five years and the absence of a local elementary school would limit their capacity to attract those workers. Also, a new school facility could provide training capacity for other local employers.
The Ministry of Education does not possess the authority to overrule any school board decision on closures.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce urges the Government of Ontario to:
- Place an immediate Moratorium on school closures in Ontario until the provincial Accommodation Review Guidelines are revised to require consideration of the economic and social impact of planned and potential closures prior to final boards of education decisions;
- Ensure that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is consulted on the aggregate provincial impact of school closures and that local Chambers of Commerce/Boards of Trade are included in discussions with school boards on current and pending accommodations reviews.
Bob Hammersley, President & CEO
firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-631-1981 Extension 524