School boards ‘chicken’

The ostrich called the school boards of Ottawa-Carleton finally took its head out of the sands of denial this week. It’s about time.

The chairs of the four school boards met with local politicians earlier this month in order to draft a school-funding program that would better serve the region than the plan proposed by the provincial Tories. Rather than the 100-per-cent usage of school space proposed by the education ministry, the working group wants schools to operate at about 80- or 90-per-cent capacity.

The unified front also wants to see the region divided into three areas, allowing urban and rural districts to calculate the funding needed for new schools without worrying about how their neighbouring schools are doing. We can’t just oppose school closings, says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. We must propose.

It’s a good idea. We only have one question:

What took them so long?

It’s no secret there’s a lot of room for improvement in Ontario s education system. While Mike Harris’s government might not have the perfect solution, at least it’s willing to try changes to seek improvements. The only people who don’t seem to realize the need for change are the teachers and the school boards themselves.

Instead of trying to work out a compromise with the Ministry of Education, the school boards gave their best Chicken Little impression, crying that the sky was falling and weeping all over the pages of the local media in an attempt to stir up public outrage.

It’s nice to see that cooler heads have prevailed. Kudos to Watson for stepping forward and organizing the cattle into nice straight lines. Perhaps now, instead of simply spouting alarmist rhetoric, all sides can approach the table and hammer out a compromise everyone can live with.

One of the most perceptive parts of the counter-proposal is the division between urban and rural school. Rural schools have always had different needs than their urban counterparts. Consider St. Mark’s Catholic High School in Manotick: originally built for 500 students, it now accommodates more than three times that number. Students from as far south as Kemptville and Oxford Mills, as far west as Stittsville, as far east as Gloucester and as far north as Bank and Hunt Club attend the school. Over 30 portables sprawl across the grounds, despite the fact that the school underwent a multi-million dollar expansion just five years ago.

St. Mark’s makes a strong case for the separation of urban and rural schools.

—Jared Adams and James Raiswell