Ministry of Education Summary of Recommendations

Review of the Renfrew DSB school closure decisions

August 2005

Renfrew County District School Board

School Closure Decision Review Summary

Introduction - Ensuring Good Places to Learn:

For over a decade, Ontario residents witnessed the accelerated closure of hundreds of schools, particularly in rural areas, as boards followed provincial guidelines and tried to live within funding constraints from due to cutbacks and a one-size-fits-all funding formula. Many communities experienced the collective dread of “accommodation reviews” that tended to isolate public participation from the decision-making process. The same period, lasting until 2003, also saw the deterioration of hundreds more schools from inadequate repairs and/or insufficient preventative maintenance. It had reached the point where about 85 per cent of Ontario 's students were being taught in buildings that need at least one major repair.

In December 2003, the Ministry of Education asked Ontario school boards to honour a moratorium on school-closing to permit an integrated overall review of school facility needs in the province. A full inspection of the status of all Ontario school buildings was completed in 2004.

In February 2005, the McGuinty government released Good Places to Learn, a sweeping 18-month action plan to rebuild Ontario schools to the standard our students require. It set out the new policy direction and goals to achieve a high standard for the environment in which our students learn, together with the resources and flexibility to make that environment achievable across the province.

The key components of the Good Places to Learn Plan are:

  • Rapid upgrades to the condition of all facilities through the largest-ever capital renewal injection – allocating funding for more than $4 billion in school repairs, additions and new school construction
  • Elimination of artificial financial incentives for boards to close schools and providing new guidelines for school closing procedures requiring tangible consideration of the implications for communities and local economies
  • Better value for capital grants and new capital planning guidelines to give boards more certainty
  • Open decision-making, improved board oversight and increased public participation in capital planning
  • Facilities planning that are driven by student needs rather than the other way around. In particular, boards are required to consider new government initiatives including the cap on class sizes from JK – Grade 3, new programs for 16- and 17-year-olds to reduce drop out rates and early learning and childcare spaces through our Best Start Plan
  • Boards are to develop a “school valuation” approach that measures each of four sets of considerations about the school, including its value to: the student, the community, the school system and the local economy. The valuation will also demonstrate the business and education case for potential replacement schools and help shape eligibility for operating grants.

Independent Reviews – Transitioning to Good Places to Learn:

The announcement of the new policy marked the beginning of a transition phase moving from the old school closure guidelines and capital planning requirements to the new guidelines.

A handful of boards chose not to observe the provincial moratorium and did not apply the new policies and guidelines. Instead, they proceeded with closing decisions arrived at under the old provincial guidelines. To ensure that as many Ontario students as possible would benefit from the new facilities policy, and to minimize public expense, the government appointed independent facilitators to conduct reviews.

The facilitators were asked to determine:

  1. Whether the spirit of the new school closure guidelines and capital planning guidelines had been met; and
  2. Whether there was a substantial benefit to students or the community if the decisions were subject to the new guidelines.

Reports have previously been completed and released for the Lakehead District School Board and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. So far, the facilitators recommended that eight schools be subject to the new guidelines, while eight schools were permitted to be closed.

Renfrew District School Board Closure Decisions:

In May 2005, Joan Green, a former director of education for the Toronto District School Board and the founding CEO of the Education Quality and Accountability Office, was appointed to conduct a review of the board's decision of March 2005 to close seven schools: Alexander Reid Public School (P.S.), Horton P.S., Laurentian P.S., Ross Mineview P.S., Keys P.S., Morison P.S. and Calabogie P.S.

Over a two-week period in June, the facilitator met with students, parents, community members, board officials, trustees, teachers and principals. The purpose of the meetings was to understand the process adopted by the board throughout their accommodation review and gauge the level of community input and participation from each of the groups. In addition, the facilitator spent time reviewing the accommodation documentation supplied by the school board and various submissions from parent groups, school councils and municipalities.

Facilitator Recommendations:

Upon completion of the review, the facilitator found that while the board's decision process was in keeping with the old school closure guidelines and met some of the expectations of the new guidelines; it did not sufficiently meet and would benefit from the principles of the capital planning component and the school valuation process of the new facilities policy.

The facilitator concluded there were grounds for the board to reconsider its decision to close two schools, Morison P.S. and Calabogie P.S. The facilitator determined there was not a substantial benefit to be gained from subjecting the remaining five schools to the new guidelines. She recommended that the board vary its decision by reconfiguring transportation plans so that parents had the choice of sending the students of Ross Mineview P.S. to an additional receiving school in the Town of Renfrew.

The facilitator recommends that the board reconsider the decision to close the following two schools:

Morison P.S.

Of the two schools recommended for closure in Deep River , there was strong community consensus to keep Morison P.S. open and to accept the closure of Keys P.S. The community expressed the need for one of the two schools to remain open to accommodate anticipated increased enrolment due to two major employers in the Town of Deep River: Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) and the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. It is recommended that the board reconsider the decision to close Morison Public School.

Calabogie P.S.

Calabogie P.S. is a small, remote school with a viable educational program. It is the only school to serve residents of the community. There is significant community support to keep the school open as it also serves as a year-round recreational centre and could be considered as a potential host site for the government's new Best Start program. Financial considerations to the board include the loss of funding from the school's distant school allocation and the rural school designation. It is recommended that the board reconsider the decision to close Calabogie public school.

The facilitator accepts the board's decision to close the remaining five schools subject to the following recommended change to the board's decision regarding Ross Mineview P.S.

Ross Mineview P.S.

It is recommended that parents be offered the choice of sending their children to a receiving school in the Town of Renfrew or to Cobden P.S. This would address concerns raised about the extended transportation time for some students.

Due to steadily declining enrolment, Ross Mineview P.S. has experienced a loss of educational services and the prospect of triple grades in the 05-06 school year. Ross Mineview P.S. students will have greater access to remedial and special education programs, literacy teachers, French immersion and school support councillors at one of the receiving schools.

While some parents have expressed a desire to keep the school open, there is little or no community use of the school.

Alexander Reid P.S.

A detailed enrolment study was done twice to confirm declining enrolment projections at Alexander Reid P.S. Families will have access to two additional elementary schools and one secondary school in the same community. All receiving schools have the capacity to accommodate Alexander Reid P.S. students. There is little community use of the school.

Horton P.S.

The proposed closure would eliminate the prospective triple grade for the 05-06 school year due to declining enrolment. Closure of this school would provide students with improved access to specialist literacy teachers and special education staff at the receiving school. Moreover, the students will have access to a gymnasium, computer laboratory and library at the receiving school. There is also minimal community use of the school.

Laurentian P.S.

Laurentian P.S. students would be offered more specialized instruction, better programming and co-curricular flexibility at the receiving schools. There are few community groups using the school and other nearby recreation facilities are available to the community, including the Festival Hall. Arrangements can be made to accommodate events that are held at the school to ensure their continued operation in the community. The board had re-opened this school because they anticipate a sustainable enrolment for programming. This enrolment has not materialized in the past three years.

Keys P.S.

There is community consensus to close this school if the board accepts the recommendation to keep Morison P.S. open.

Implications for the Future

The delay in releasing the facilitator's report was due to an internal ministry review undertaken to examine implications of two factors the facilitator was not asked to examine, in part because 2005-06 grants were only just announced in May.

1. Financial Concerns

Ministry analysis indicates that the board projected annual savings for its original plan stated at $1.82 million per year, yet losses of ministry grants reduce this gain to only $434,000. At the same time, the board faces one time costs of $1.58 million and the loss of $3.33 million in one-time provincial major repair grants associated with closed buildings against savings in projected minimum facility repairs of $1.84 million for a net one time loss of $3.07 million. The facilitator's recommendations improve the situation giving an annual savings of about $600,000 and one-time loss of $2.2 million. This still means it will take nearly four years to realize savings.

The plan also adds to transportation funding pressure by adding more than 110 students to bussing.

Renfrew DSB will still receive 11 per cent more in provincial funding next year to date compared to 2002-03, and this despite a 6 per cent drop in enrolment. As well, transportation grants have been increased 20 per cent in the past two years. In general, this means that while there is provincial concern, the school closing financial choices related to school closures can be regarded as within the board's ability to make.

2. Provincial Program Objectives

Class size

Several of the receiving schools are projected to experience an increase in primary class size. Meanwhile, there is a provincial initiative to reduce primary classes to 20 students. While of concern, ministry analysis suggests the board should be able to meet its obligations in time for the full implementation of the class size cap in 2007-08.

Rural schools

The board decided to close a number of small and rural schools despite new provincial policy developments and continuing work for better policy and funding of these schools. The ministry does not view school size as an overriding determinant of educational quality. The ministry intends to continue to improve funding and to make curriculum easier to deliver in small school settings. This will include pilot projects targeting student retention and outcomes in small secondary schools. Ultimately, boards will still have significant freedom to make local choices in the best interest of students.

Conclusion

The provincial interest will differ from the transition period (which ends now) to the future under the new policy. The ministry is working to bring some benefit of the new policy to affected communities and at the same time acknowledge and respect the work and judgements made in good faith by boards. In the future, the ministry will be able to ensure that the full policy is applied so that there is the widest possible public discussion of all implications of school retention or closure.

After its further analysis, the ministry has determined it will support the facilitator's recommendations and has requested the board to do the same.