School closings on the increase – review of process needed
May 11, 2012
School closings are on the rise in Ontario, and the process for deciding which schools stay open and which schools close, should be reviewed.
A new report released May 11, 2012 by People for Education shows that many of Ontario’s school boards are facing hard decisions about closing schools. Boards are dealing with dramatic declines in enrolment and budget pressures, making it hard to keep smaller or under-enrolled schools open. Ontario has 120,000 fewer students than it did 10 years ago.
The report, a pre-release of one section of People for Education’s 2012 Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, is based on data from school boards across the province.
There are currently 125 schools closing or recommended to close, and a further 142 under review for possible closing.
Data reveals provincial problem
The report shows that school closings are on the increase this year. Among the findings:
- There are 50 schools closing in 2012, compared to 43 in 2011.
- Across the province, there are 125 schools slated to close or recommended for closing over the next 2 to 4 years.
- A further 142 schools are currently undergoing Accommodation Reviews for possible closing.
- The average elementary school now has 318 students, compared to an average of 365 in 1997/98.
- There are 794 students in an average secondary school, compared to a high of 879 students per school in 2000/01.
Funding formula based on 1997 enrolments
Two-thirds of a school board’s funding is based on enrolment, but average school sizes have declined by over 14% since 1997 when the provincial funding formula for education was developed. Changes to the formula have not kept pace with the changing sizes of schools. Principals and secretaries are now funded mainly on a “per school” basis, but funding for most other staff continues to be based on numbers of students.
This year, the province has adjusted the formula to “encourage” boards to close more of their small or underutilized schools. A targeted declining enrolment grant is being reduced, and funding that allowed urban boards to keep schools open that were below capacity will be cut over the next three years. For the coming school year, this translates to a cut of approximately $50 million. As a result many new school closing reviews may be announced in the coming months.
Accommodation Review Process needs review
There are currently 142 schools under review for possible closure in the province. The review process, known as an Accommodation Review Committee (ARC), is provincially mandated, with adjustments made to meet local board needs. The role of the ARCs is strictly advisory and can be extremely time-consuming for participants, many of whom are parents. It can also be divisive – pitting school communities against each other. ARC participants have raised a number of concerns about the process – they often feel they don’t have all the information they need; they are surprised when the school board doesn’t accept their recommendations and, in some cases, they feel that the decision was made before the process began. Many decisions have been appealed, but all but one appeal has been denied.
Many ARC participants are calling for a full review of the ARC process.
To read the full report, click here.
To see the full list of ARCs and schools, click here.
People For Education Viewpoint:
Though there are times when closing a school is the right choice, there are many other cases where schools could be kept viable by changes in both funding and policy. We have to start looking at the potential in our schools to act as centres of integrated services for families and children, and we have to fund them accordingly.
Declining enrolment provides an opportunity not only to update per pupil allocations in the formula, but also to “re-think” the use of school buildings. In some cases new policy for sharing school space and to encourage more cooperation between schools and other services could save money.
People for Education recommends:
- the province conduct a public review of the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process and develop a more effective, less divisive and less taxing method for making decisions on school closings.
- the province follow through on the recommendations from the Declining Enrolment Working Group, including mandating that all new provincially funded services and programs (not just those that are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education), be housed in schools unless they are able to prove there is a compelling reason why they should not be.