How school boards, and by extension, the provincial government, closes schools is a nightmare. After years of angst and controversy, many Hamiltonians would readily agree.
But few people are willing to reform what has become a failed process that disregards community wants and isolates the school board from the rest of the community.
School boards are beholden to the provincial government for all their financial support through a flawed funding formula that forces boards to close schools with low enrollments in order to build new schools to service areas of highest need.
And when boards are forced to close schools they attempt to mollify residents through these accommodation review committees to gather “input” from parents. In fact, these ARCs are often nothing more than an attempt by the board to sell their decisions to an angry and frustrated public.
It is with this understanding that some politicians and residents are calling for the province to establish a moratorium on further closures in the city.
This is nothing more than politicking at its worse.
Why should the province stop the process in Hamilton while forcing other communities in Ontario to make the difficult decisions local trustees are trying to avoid? And make no mistake, if a moratorium was granted it wouldn’t make the problem go away, it would only delay the inevitable.
The crux of the issue is how to reform what is considered a broken funding formula that puts school boards into a box from which they are unable to emerge. School closings are inevitable in a system that rewards efficiency and good planning. Demographic shifts in areas that were once full of children have occurred in Hamilton and they no longer have the population to fill the neighbourhood school. Every facility that is significantly below its capacity forces the board to run an inefficient and expensive system that diverts money from other educational priorities.
The province needs to determine what is the purpose of closing schools. Is it to improve the education system? Or is it to make sure all their bottom lines add up?
One consideration may be to review the present financial formula and give boards back their taxing power.
While it’s worth discussing, even if more responsible funding measures may not be the silver bullet school closure advocates are hoping for to protect their favourite neighbourhood facility.
The day of reckoning has arrived, and tough decisions need to be made: close schools and face the wrath of parents or change the system and face an uncertain outcome. With a provincial election expected this spring, now is the time to start this debate. At the moment there is little the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board can do to prevent school closures, that can only come from Queen’s Park and it’s long past time for this issue to be discussed once more.