School divisions: How we got here
Since hindsight is 20-20, in the current school merger discussions, it would be useful to look back and consider how we ended up with four school systems. One of several important chapters in the history of schools occurred 50 years ago.
In 1969, at a meeting of the United Counties Board of Education, a motion to accept, in principle and implement as soon as possible, French language instruction in Grade 9 at St. Lawrence High School was defeated by a vote of 8-5.
Lucien Chénier underlined that news item from the past that was related in our February 20 installment of Auld Lang Syne.
Mr. Chénier, who was at the time a member of the StormontDundas-Glengarry English-language public board of education, recalled that the decision to refuse instruction in the was one of the contributing factors that led to the quadro- board arrangement we have now.
The proposal to have French taught at St. Lawrence in Cornwall was a contentious one, obviously. Mr. Chénier remembers that several trustees did not want to take a public stance on the issue; many of them abstained from voting when the suggestion was rejected.
Although the members were clearly divided, the refusal sent a clear message to francophones -- they would not receive high school education in their mother tongue under the SDG board of education.
Mr. Chénier, a typical Alexandrian, is fluently bilingual, easily shifting from one official language to another. He attended the McCormick Road school, where at one point francophone parents asked if they could rent the premises for some after-school French-language lessons. No way, the anglos replied.
So the francophones went off and created their own entity; the ranks of the rural school were depleted; the school closed.
At that time, Ontario’s Catholic schools were not fully funded by public money. There were elementary French-language schools. But after they graduated from the primary system, all secondary school students were obliged to attend schools administered by public, nondenominational boards. Some systems had mixes of elementary and secondary panels and francophone and anglophone members. Fast forward a few decades. The Ontario government decided to extend full public funding to separate schools. Boards and schools were divided along religious and linguistic lines. Now we are being told that we cannot afford four systems. On the provincial level, the Ontario government is said to be planning to force the amalgamation of systems, taking aiming at school boards in smaller communities. Of course, any whiff of change is bound to face resistance. For instance, a union representing 55,000 education workers has sounded the alarm.
The reasoning behind the Ford government’s rumoured plans to reduce the number of school boards across Ontario is based on a set of false assumptions and the move won’t save money, but will weaken the province’s education system, says Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), a council of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
“This plan is not based in reality. There is nothing in our experience that suggests mergers will lead to cost savings in the long run,” said Laura Walton, president of the OSBCU. “Public sector restructuring in other sectors has demonstrated that mergers can actually cost far more than they save. In fact, Ontario’s Auditor General found that hospital restructuring under the Mike Harris government actually cost $3.2 billion.”
Reducing the number of school boards across the province will have a detrimental effect on education because the remaining boards will have larger geographical areas to cover with fewer resources to serve their communities, contends the union.
“This move is an attack on local democracy and a concern for parents and students and anyone who cares about quality education. The government is making our school system less responsive to student needs and less able to meet the diverse needs of different communities, especially in rural and remote areas of the province,” Ms. Walton charges.
Obviously, battle lines are already being drawn in a skirmish that has barely started.
If this merger idea does advance beyond preliminary stages, you might want to clip and save that note on the 1969 board of education decision.
There has always been a lot of talk about cooperation and harmony. But actions speak louder than words.