St. Marys Journal Argus
With the Ontario Ministry of Education proposing revisions to the process undertaken by school boards in the province before they approve the closure of schools, St. Marys Town Councillor Lynn Hainer was urging fellow councillors and Town staff earlier this month to respond to a call for input into the matter.
Councillors offered their support, directing administrative staff to communicate their concerns to the Ministry in advance of a Dec. 18 deadline for public feedback.
A tentative amendment to the legislation “reduc(es) the municipal role to ‘delegation’ from (full) ‘member’ of Accommodation Review Committees,” Hainer warned in her message to Council. Under existing legislation, school boards are mandated to create Accommodation Review Committees, or “ARCs,” and those ARCs are mandated to provide advisory reports to trustees in advance of their school closure decision. Currently, the municipal council of all potentially-affected areas is asked to appoint a full voting member to each ARC.
In the message — addressed to CAO Kevin McLlwain requesting that the government’s request for input be put on the agenda for this week’s Town Council meeting — Hainer also hints at possible changes in the school catchment area boundaries between South Perth Centennial School in Rannoch, and schools within St. Marys.
Lynette Geddes, trustee with the Avon Maitland District School Board, confirmed in an interview with the Journal Argus that the possibility of adjusting boundaries between South Perth Centennial and Little Falls Public School in St. Marys has been raised around the board table. But she stressed it was just that: a possibility.
Geddes explained the concept was raised in a report provided to trustees in May of this year, in which enrollments and projected enrollments throughout the board are highlighted, and potential actions outlined if it’s felt the numbers will lead to future challenges. In the May, 2014 report from school board administration, there were no recommendations to undertake reviews for possible school consolidation this year. But the situation in and around St. Marys for elementary accommodation was highlighted.
“It came up because of the fact that there are two portable (classrooms) at Little Falls and South Perth is under-utilized at the moment,” Geddes explained. “So it was in the report last spring, but only as a possibility.”
The school board trustee added: “We have not discussed it or been asked to consider it since then, and there was no discussion of (possible boundary changes in and around St. Marys) at the time.”
Hainer, however, stressed to her Town Council counterparts that the boundary issue remains on the table for the Avon Maitland board.
“It is imperative, with the impending school border changes that would see St. Marys public school children bussed to South Perth Centennial, that we respond,” Hainer said in her message to Council. She added that the proposed changes to the legislation include a suggestion that school boards consider “mov(ing) attendance boundaries and programs to balance enrolment in urban areas.”
In her message, Hainer pushes for Council to argue St. Marys schools “are not urban and therefore should not be at risk of this boundary change from the Avon Maitland District School Board.”
And, at the Dec. 16 meeting, she was successful in convincing fellow councillors to support sending a list of concerns to the Ministry by the Dec. 18 deadline. These included asking that municipal ARC representatives retain full voting membership, that the definitions of “urban” and other related terms be clarified, and that boundary changes within communities like St. Marys be strictly controlled.
Hainer’s request was provided as part of the information package for the very first regular meeting of the 2014-18 Town Council, along with a letter received recently from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). That letter states:
"The Ministry of Education is revising the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARG) that governs the local school board process to consider school closures. There are a number of significant proposed changes including:
• a new role for municipal governments in the ARC process;
• a shift away from consideration of the impact of school closures to community well-being and the local economy toward a more exclusive focus on student achievement;
• reduction in the duration and number of public meetings required for the ARC process; and,
• provisions to consider school closings without an ARC.”
AMO notes that the ministry will accept feedback up until Thursday, Dec. 18. “The new guidelines will be released in January, 2015,” the provincial lobbying organization adds.
“AMO is analyzing the proposed changes and will submit feedback on behalf of the municipal sector to the Minister of Education, the Honourable Liz Sandals, about the revised guidelines.”
School board trustee Lynette Geddes noted that responses to the request for feedback have already been sent to the Ministry by the Ontario Public School Boards Association, and this included input from the Avon Maitland board.