Independent Review Puts Bricks Ahead of Kids

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) has deep concerns about David Cooke’s report on the decisions Lakehead DSB has made regarding school closures.

In the face of declining enrolment Lakehead made some very difficult decisions to close 7 schools this year and 7 schools in 2007. These decisions were based on a thorough and professional assessment of school facilities, provision to students of programs and services that are pedagogically sound, and an extensive, open consultation process with parents and school communities.

The framework for Mr. Cooke’s review is a Ministry policy on school closures that was not issued until well after Lakehead DSB completed its consultations and made its decisions. Nevertheless, at several points in his report, Mr. Cooke applauds the board for the process followed and comments that it reflects the spirit of the new policy. This is his argument for supporting the closure decision on 5 of the 7 schools. However, although Lakehead followed an identical process for all 7 schools, Mr. Cooke finds that it doesn’t reflect the spirit of the new policy in 2 cases. Mr. Cooke has also recommended that the schools scheduled for closure in 2007 should be re-examined in accordance to the unlegislated guidelines released after the Board made its decision in January.

Historically, local autonomy and accountability have been the cornerstones of Ontario’s publicly-funded education system. A school board is responsible for governing the school system on behalf of the community it serves, in the best interests of all students. Now, more than ever, boards are held accountable by their communities for the way they interpret and implement provincially-driven policy and allocate provincially-mandated funds.

Local control is best exercised by the public election of trustees, who are most knowledgeable about community priorities and local conditions that affect student learning and success. Trustees also have a duty and responsibility to hold the government accountable for the amount of funding the board receives to support student achievement. Ultimately, individual trustees are responsible for their decisions to their parents and community through the election process in the same manner as provincial politicians.

“We support the decisions Lakehead DSB made. They were made after thorough, thoughtful consideration with the best interest of students as a first priority,” said Rick Johnson, president of OPSBA. “They also have received the full support of a vast majority of students and parents in the area. That’s what the local school board worked for over more than three years. It is deserving of something more meaningful than a fly-in visit by a hand-picked consultant to the Minister.”