Sadly, some schools should close
It should surprise no one that the unpopular Ontario government has put a half-hearted hold on unpopular school closures.
With the next provincial election just 11 months away, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals trail the Progressive Conservatives by double digits, according to some recent polls.
Faced with a possibly devastating defeat next June, the Liberals are desperately searching for ways to win friends and influence voters.
The school-closure review announced last week is just the latest straw this government is grasping in its carefully calculated bid for re-election. Doing what’s popular, even if it’s a dubious move, just might make the Liberals more popular — and electable.
But when it comes to the issue of school closures, it’s important to be clear what the government is and is not doing.
The 124 schools already recommended for closure remain on the chopping block and will get the axe. Nothing can save them.
But for now, at least, Ontario school boards will not be able to put any more schools up for closure.
The way the Liberals tell it, this moratorium allows the province to overhaul the process for closing schools in a way that shows greater sensitivity to rural and northern communities.
In reality, the move almost certainly lets the Liberals kick a particularly unpleasant can of worms down the road until after next year’s vote. And an explosive button the opposition parties have been pressing will be defused.
Most of us understand why virtually no one wants to see their neighbourhood or community school shut.
Families grow attached to where their children learn.
Schools are revered as community hubs and public playgrounds — particularly in underserviced rural areas.
Nor should anyone discount the practical consideration that school closures can hurt property values.
Perhaps in some cases, such as in isolated northern communities, underused schools should be saved because of their vital importance to the people living there.
Yet despite the fine sentiments — and even reasoned arguments — arrayed against school closures, there are many buildings that simply should be closed by democratically elected school trustees.
Enrolment in taxpayer-funded Ontario schools is falling.
There were 1,993,433 students enrolled in these schools in 2015-16 — 125,111 fewer than in 2005-06.
Do we really need the same number of schools for so many fewer young people?
The decline in students can be more profound in specific communities, whether in cities, towns or rural places.
School buildings, of course, require maintenance, and that need only increases as the structures age.
Moreover, to put what is happening into context, the impending closure of 124 publicly funded schools in a province with 4,900 of them cannot be considered an epidemic.
There are times, regrettable though they may be, when it is a mistake to pour tax dollars into a decrepit, money-pit of a school.
There are times when precious education resources are wasted on crumbling schools with few pupils in the classrooms.
And, sadly, there are times when the common public interest, rather than the interest of one community, is best served when a school is closed.