Dozens of Ontario mayors fight to keep schools open
TORONTO – More than 50 mayors from across Ontario are battling the provincial government to keep schools in their communities open and operating.
Nestled on the southern tip of Georgian bay, picturesque Penetanguishene’s only secondary school is slated to close in 2016.
The school is half empty, however, the mayor worries without it, the town’s future is in jeopardy because people won’t want to move there or open up new businesses.
“Small town Ontario schools need to be kept open. They are part of our community, they are part of who we are and what we need to be,” said Mayor Gerry Marshall.
“It’s everywhere, and we are all feeling the same angst and the same concerns about the schools in our communities.”
More than 50 mayors have joined together to take the issue directly to the provincial government, with even more communities expected to jump on board now that the election is over.
But how many schools across the province have recently closed, or are slated to close is unclear. The province doesn’t keep track.
Liz Sandals, Ontario’s Minister of Education said the province keeps track of how many schools are open and how many students go to them. She couldn’t say how many court challenges there have been, or how much they have cost taxpayers, adding responsibility for those lay with the local school boards.
“It is not my lawsuit, it is somebody else’s lawsuit,” said Sandals.
When asked about the dozens of mayors who have banded together to battle school closures, she refused to answer. When asked why she couldn’t spare ten minutes any time this week to discuss the issue she said she had a very busy schedule.
Sandals pointed out the province spends $300 million annually maintaining empty spaces in underutilized schools.
But the concerned group of municipal leaders insist the province doesn’t have to close the schools. The mayors suggested creating “hubs” where school buildings are divided and empty spaces filled with offices or other uses
“What they need to do is take a look and realize we are now in the 21st century and the options that are open, instead of looking at the traditional things they have been doing for years,” said Harry Hughes, mayor of Oro-Medonte.
Sandals walked away and refused to answer any further questions, so Global News wasn’t able to ask the minister about hubs or the mayors’ allegations the review process which school boards use to close schools is unfair and whether boards use the information to fit their foregone conclusions.
The ministry has not returned emails asking about extra funding for smaller and lower enrollment schools.