Trustees mull closure of 12 UCDSB schools as MPP asks them to fight province

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Can robots rescue one North Grenville rural school?

At an Upper Canada District School Board meeting in Kemptville Thursday evening, Leeds—Grenville MPP Steve Clark called on trustees to stand up to Ontario's Ministry of Education by putting a moratorium on rural school closures.

Board staff recommend shuttering a total of 12 schools in the board. Seven of them are in his riding alone, the Progressive Conservative member said.

The final decision is expected March 23.

The Upper Canada District School Board, or UCDSB, covers a large swath of eastern Ontario including the communities in and around Cornwall, Brockville, Gananoque, Kemptville, Smiths Falls, Perth and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.

"Basically, one in four elementary schools this board has in Leeds Grenville are slated to close," Clark said during his presentation to trustees.

"It's just unbelievable that the board would not take recommendations that were given to them. They didn't move forward on some of the suggestion that municipalities offered them to work together."

Board blames funding cuts, lower enrolment

On Feb. 15, after hearing from many parents, municipal and community leaders, board staff presented their final report, which explained that enrolment decline and provincial funding cuts for operating and maintaining schools mean some schools must close.

"The board has significantly more instructional space than it receives funding to operate and to maintain our schools ... The provincial funding the board receives for all aspects of schools favours the consolidation of schools to demonstrate optimal levels of enrolment and efficient use of school space," reads the report.

But on Thursday, Clark urged the trustees to change tack.

"My hope is the board will reject this report and challenge the province," he said.

Some trustees, including David McDonald who represents the Cornwall ward, didn't appreciate Clark's lecture.

"Thank you Mr. Clark for being here, it's not often we get an MPP to use the school board as a soap box for their political party," said McDonald, drawing a few boos from the audience.

McDonald went on to say it was Clark's party, a Progressive Conservative government, that implemented the current funding model back in the late 1990s under then-premier Mike Harris.

"That per-pupil funding has created the situation we have in our communities, not just in eastern Ontario, but across the province," explained McDonald. "That per-pupil funding is really to benefit the heavy density population municipalities."

'One board has to stand up'

With new provincial funding cuts, boards across the province are making similar decisions to close under-populated schools.

On Wednesday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees voted to close six urban schools.

That board's chief financial officer said it's been close to two decades since board officials have had to make such sweeping facility decisions.

PC leader Patrick Brown has called for a March 7 debate at Queen's Park about a moratorium on rural school closures.

"It's devastating when a school is closed and children have to get on a bus and go long distances," said Clark, who's calling on the Upper Canada board to work with other school boards, municipalities and MPPs to figure out better solutions.

"One board has to stand up to the province and I hope it's this one."

Proposed UCDSB school closures

- Benson Public School, effective September 2017.

- Plantagenet Public School, effective September 2017.

- Rideau Centennial Public School, effective September 2017.

- Rothwell-Osnabruck School (Grades 7-12), effective September 2017.

- S.J. McLeod Public School, effective September 2017.

- Prince of Wales Public School, effective September 2018.

- Wolford Public School, effective September 2018.

- Oxford-on-Rideau Public School, effective September 2018 (subject to making space available at South Branch Elementary School).

- North Stormont Public School, at a date to be confirmed pending ministry approval for an addition at Roxmore Public School.

- Maynard Public School, at a date to be confirmed pending ministry approval for an addition or rebuild of Wellington Elementary School.

- St. Lawrence Secondary School/Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, at a date to be confirmed pending ministry approval for the rebuild of a Grade 7-12 school in Cornwall.

- Toniata Public School, at a date to be confirmed pending ministry approval for the rebuild of a new Brockville elementary school to consolidate Toniata and Commonwealth Public School with Prince of Wales Public School.