School closure report ‘ignores’ presented alternatives, says MPP

Clark suggests board needs to buck up to province

In this March 2016, file photo, MPP Steve Clark makes a presentation at the Brockville YMCA. Clark says the UCDSB needs to take a hard stand against the Ontario government over funding for rural education. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

BROCKVILLE – As Upper Canada school board trustees meet tonight (Wednesday), the MPP for Leeds-Grenville is asking them to reject the final report on consolidating schools.

As Brockville Newswatch told you Monday, the list of school closures has be whittled down from 29 to 12 – seven of those schools on the chopping block are in MPP Steve Clark’s riding.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” Clark said in an interview Tuesday with BNW.

“I think the report that the trustees have been given ignores the great work, the remarkable work by parents throughout the ARC process,” he said.

The MPP says he’s met with parents who have given up hundreds and thousands of hours over the last five months.

He says the ARC process results in a lot of “angst” and doesn’t solve the core problem – the Ontario funding model for education. “It doesn’t solve what I think is really the core…to allow the government of Ontario to work with partners to come up with a better funding system for especially rural schools,” he said.

At the same time, Clark said trustees, who make the final decision, need to take a “harder advocacy role” with the province for a better deal on education funding. “But, you know what, history has shown that this board doesn’t do that and I’m just very concerned history is going to repeat itself.”

“I’m advocating a far more collaborate approach than we’re seeing through this ARC process. I’m going to remain strong with the board. I think the best decision is to ask the province not to close any rural schools until we have time to sit at the table and work out a better deal.”

Clark said Education Minister Mitzie Hunter needs to “stop sitting on the sidelines” and call a moratorium on school closures.

He would like the government to strike a special committee on the future of rural education.

“Rural taxpayers pay just as much taxes as their counterparts in urban Ontario and I think they deserve services and quality education close to home is one of them,” he said.

Had it not been for the change in the Ontario funding formula last year, which eliminated the “top-up funding” for rural schools, Clark believes all the Leeds-Grenville schools could be viable and could stay open.

Clark plans to be at tonight’s meeting in Kemptville, which starts at 6:30 p.m. He also wants to make a presentation on March 2 when the board holds another special meeting to hear delegations.