There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)
Close No More Schools
Citizens of Ontario are seeing the same scenario being played out across the province. Declining enrolment and the shifting of students between public and separate school boards is resulting in school after school being placed on the chopping block. It is the single common conclusion grasped by school administrators when faced with declining enrolment. It is the traditional way of dealing with this problem, and also happens to be the solution that requires the least amount of effort from unimaginative administrators. Rather than developing a new and forward-thinking solution to the problem, it’s just easier to use yesterday’s solution. After all, it’s worked for decades, right? Schools, students, programs and teachers are just identical faceless pieces on the chessboard to be indiscriminately shuffled by the bureaucrats, right? Wrong! The loss of local schools is destructive to the students and their neighbourhood communities and is a tremendous waste of public assets. We should not have to bus our children out of their own neighbourhoods every day to go to school.
Duplication Wastes Money
Our current situation is one in which public bodies work independently, often at odds, and in doing so duplicate publicly-funded infrastructure and services and make decisions that are not in the strategic best interest of all the players. While there are many public bodies responsible for managing and spending our public funds there is only one taxpayer.
Reduce, Reuse, Reinvent
Let’s imagine a new way of doing public business. One in which our publicly-funded bodies are directed, first and foremost, to work and plan together in our collective best interest. Maybe even a system in which public bodies receive additional capital and operating funding for projects that demonstrate collaborative planning and sharing. Close your eyes and let’s imagine a shared facility; one that houses a Catholic School, a Public School, a public library, a community centre, and a daycare centre.
Efficiency Through Sharing
What happens in our imaginary shared facility when enrolment is lower in the Public School and higher in the Catholic school? The facility partners merely divide up the collective pool of classrooms according to their needs. No going back to taxpayer wallets for more money to build more buildings. Rather than maintaining duplicate libraries for each school, the municipal public library fills that role efficiently and cost-effectively, at the same time providing a branch library to serve library patrons from the community. The facility offers fabulous gymnasiums, music rooms, and meeting rooms. All of which are shared between the two schools. And after hours? Rather than sitting dark and empty, these superb facilities are all available to members of the public as a community centre. Sound great? It is. Facilities like this exist today, and represent new and visionary ways of doing business and solving problems for our publicly-funded bodies. Read more about such a facility, Toronto’s Humberwood Centre.
Demand Creativity and Vision from School Boards
To survive and thrive into the future, Ontario schools and students need visionary leaders. Real leaders that first seek out opportunities in partnership rather than reverting to the old “divide and conquer” approach – dividing communities and pitting school against school and community against community in a bitter game of Survivor. The majority of readers of this article are living in a community that is now faced with at least one school closure (or will be in the very near future). It’s time to speak out and let your school board know that they must put a stop to old-fashioned thinking, put on their leadership pants, and envision new ways of doing business. School closures should no longer be an option. Send them the link to this article and get them thinking…and re-thinking.