Province planning changes to school closing process
October 11, 2017
The province planning consultations on revisions to Ontario's Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines.
In its 2018-19 Funding Engagement Guide, the Ministry of Education has included questions about the proposed changes. Among other things, they would extend the minimum timelines for the accommodation review process; require boards to provide at least three “accommodation options” for review; and require boards to provide information on the impact of a potential school closing on the community.
Moratorium and increased funding
In June, the Ministry of Education announced a moratorium on school closings to provide time for changes to be made to the process. At the same time, the Ministry announced that school boards would receive an additional $20 million annually in a Rural and Northern Education Fund. The funding is intended to support areas such as:
- improved programming and support services in rural schools (e.g., French immersion, arts education and guidance counselling);
- higher costs of operations for rural schools;
- student transportation options such as late bus runs; and
- mobile e-learning through tablets or Wi-Fi.
Board by board allocations range from $0 to $1.4 million annually.
New process to include more time for community input
New draft guidelines will be released in January, with final guidelines to be in place for the 2018-19 school year. In the meantime no new accommodation reviews may be held.
The proposed changes include:
- revised timeframes:
- extend current minimum timeframe beyond five months
- eliminate boards’ capacity for a modified time frame of three months
- capacity to extend time-frames under specific circumstances, such as if new closure recommendations are added mid-way
- new requirements for initial staff reports
- at least three options (formerly only one was required) including the recommended option, an alternative, and a status quo option
- information on how each option would impact the school board budget; student programming, achievement and well-being; and the community (including the economic impact).
- Requirements to promote broader community input
- School boards to invite municipal staff and elected officials to discuss the initial staff report, and disclose municipal participation.
- School trustees will have a broader role
- Secondary school students to be involved in accommodation reviews
- New rules for appealing decisions including changes to timelines and signature thresholds for petitions
- New supports to be provided by the Ministry of Education
- A Pupil Accommodation Review toolkit
- A template for use by community partners to “engage boards with proposed alternatives to school closures”
- New support for independent third party review of initial staff report information and community proposals
While the province is consulting with stakeholders on some aspects of the provincial education funding formula, there appear to be no plans for increased funding beyond the previously announced $20 million.