Closure deadline can’t be met: McLeod

School boards will not be able to compose a list of proposed school closures by the Harris government’s Dec. 31 deadline, said John McLeod, the acting director of education for the local public school board.
But the Ministry of Education and Training doesn’t sound like it will be giving any extensions soon.
Rob Savage, press secretary for minister Dave Johnson, said school boards aren’t being forced to do anything but rather have been “asked” if they are going to look at reducing their capacity space.
“We have asked them to provide us a list if they are looking for new funding in other areas,” he noted, such as capital for new schools.
“The community has to really decide what’s the best way to accommodate the students,” he added. “I think most people in Ontario want to see our dollars putting our students in school to be used effectively as possible, not to house empty spaces.”
The new funding model under Bill 160 determines maintenance dollars on a per pupil basis rather than a square footage one.
But McLeod stressed there’s no way the board can meet this deadline, noting it has struck a committee to do a study on its facilities but that alone will take about a year to do properly.
“We’ve sent a letter to the ministry urging that they delay it for two years,” he said.
School boards across the province are “scrambling” to find solutions to half-empty schools, charged Liz Sandals, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.
“Traditionally, before Bill 160, school boards had policies in place that offered discussion and a fair consultative process in which all members of the community could participate,” she wrote in an open letter to the editor.
“There is simply not enough time to have real debate on such a critical issue, which carries such profound impacts,” she argued.
NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton said the ideal number of students in each school the ministry has is around 400.
“The smaller your school is, the more budget pressure there is to [close] it,” he said, noting Nestor Falls, McCrosson/Tovell, Alberton Central, and Alexander MacKenzie will face the most pressure in this district to be axed.
McLeod said only Robert Moore School here in town is big enough to hold about 400 students–and even it is “under utilized.”
“Sturgeon Creek is not full,” he noted. “Nestor Falls only [has] 25 kids. We could ship them down but it’s another bus ride of 45 minutes.
“The board has not made any study on this to see if this is a fact,” McLeod stressed, noting no schools are set for closure as of this moment.
Savage said there already has been an extension of the school closure deadline from September to December, and didn’t seem to think there would be another one.
Still, McLeod said the government may find itself without any other choice but to do it.
“The time frame is not there to do the consulting with the public that needs to be done,” McLeod stressed. “[The government] may want it but there’s no way for it to be physically done.”