South Dundas school closures prohibited for five years by capital funding agreement?

It was standing room only in the Seaway District High School gymnasium, where about 800 people attended the final ARC 2A meeting. Ninety people watched the proceedings outside of the gymnasium on TV's set up in the cafeteria and a couple of classrooms. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Update: Ministry leaving matter in board’s hands

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

IROQUOIS — Seaway District High School and Morrisburg Public School appear to be prohibited from closure for five years, under the terms of a provincial grant program that funded over $1-million in improvements at both schools in the last two years.

However, Ontario’s Ministry of Education still intends to leave the decision in the hands of the Upper Canada District School Board, according to ministry email correspondence addressing questions about a March 2015 ministry memorandum on the School Condition Improvement (SCI) Funding Program.

Nation Valley News has received a copy of the memo, which states that boards “must continue to use SCI funding on depreciable renewal expenditures in schools that are expected to remain open and operating for at least five years.”  

The same restriction would otherwise seem to apply to some other Upper Canada District School Board schools currently targeted for shutdown in the ongoing review process, according to an Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) member who brought the five-year, no-closure rule to NVN’s attention.

Although this information wasn’t presented at the final ARC 2A public meeting that drew at least 800 people to Seaway last night, parental panel members had recently become aware of what seemed like an ace in the hole to keep schools open.

(This issue is separate from the reality that both Seaway and M.P.S. are “fully funded” schools, under a top-up program based on distance to other schools, even though they aren’t technically full to capacity. That point was hammered home repeatedly during presentations heard last night.)

In reply to questions posed by Nation Valley News, ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin presented the SCI program’s five-year requirement to remain open as more expectation than obligation. She also made clear that Education Minister Mitzie Hunter would not intervene in board decisions on school closures.

Q. Can you can confirm that a five-year, no-closure rule applied to a capital funding program that recently upgraded and fixed some Ontario schools?

A. The Ministry expects that school boards will spend their School Condition Improvement and School Renewal Allocation funds on schools that need to remain open for at least five years. For schools that are scheduled to be closed or are planned to be part of an upcoming accommodation review, renewal funds should only be used to address renewal needs that could compromise the continuing operation of these schools in the short-term (i.e. matters related to health and safety).

Q. If a school board wishes to close a school currently bound by such a no-shutdown period … would the ministry have to agree or provide a waiver of some sort? Would the Minister of Education have to sign off on such an exemption in order for a school closure to proceed before the mandated five-year, no-closure period is up?

A. Locally elected school board trustees have the responsibility and authority to decide on the most appropriate pupil accommodation arrangements for the delivery of their elementary and secondary programs. This responsibility includes managing capital assets and making decisions about school closures and consolidations.

This article has been edited to reflect the ministry’s response.