Even though I normally write only once a week, I thought I should update readers on developments that have taken place since yesterday’s post was written. I also wanted to offer some thoughts on how those who want to save our school might tackle the mission.
First, I want to say that I have thought better of my choice of words for the headline on yesterday’s post: “They want to close our school. We can push back.” Yes, it is 100-per-cent true that the recommendation that went before trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board yesterday was that the Township school be closed, that its students be bused to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc, and that all grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas be moved to the high school in Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary.
But then again, does anyone – the paid school-board administrators or the trustees who are elected by you and me to sit on the board and make the decisions – really want to close a school? I’m sure they don’t, given how much upset and outrage such moves always entail. This recommendation comes because our school board and many others are battling serious financial issues and a funding arrangement with the provincial government that severely limits the boards’ options. As a result, having thought about it quite a bit, I’ve modified that headline to read, “They say our school should be closed. We can push back.”
Now to the developments over the past 36 hours or so:
Yesterday afternoon, the school board’s school enrolment/school capacity committee received the recommendation from board administrators to begin a process called an “accommodation review” of schools in three areas: ours (that is, the Madoc area), Belleville, and Prince Edward County. This “accommodation review” (what does that mean, anyway?) is a process that will look at the feasibility of acting on the administrators’ recommendations that come with it, which involve closing quite a few schools and consolidating students elsewhere. (You can read a full report about it here.)
The committee did accept the recommendation – though I am pleased to say that the trustee who represents schools (including Madoc Township P.S.) and families in our area, Bonnie Danes, voted against it, expressing concerns about the loss of this important part of the rural community – and it then went before the full board last night. The board too gave the green light to the “accommodation reviews.”
Now, it’s very important to explain that school closures are a long way from a done deal at this point. The board’s vote last night merely sets the wheels in motion, and begins a process that will involve public consultation. Here, in fact (from the full report presented to the board, which you can read here), is the timeline. As you’ll see, the final and decisive vote won’t happen until this coming June:
Another development since last I wrote is that Hastings County council also had a meeting, this very day. At it, as you can read here, councillors from our neck of the woods expressed what the Intelligencer‘s headline calls “deep concerns” about the proposed school closures. The councillors voted to meet with the school board to talk about the issues, and if necessary, to take their concerns to Ontario’s minister of education. To which I say: good for them. The mayor of Tweed, the municipality of which Queensborough is a part, said it well: “It does (affect) the community when you lose a school.”
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Rural communities like ours in Tweed, Madoc, Madoc Township and, yes, Queensborough, are thinly populated, and services and amenities are few and scattered. People who live here don’t – for the most part – complain about that; we make the best use we can of the services and amenities we do have. I’m thinking here of (to throw out just a few examples) the first-rate medical centre we have in Madoc. And the 24-hour grocery store that has saved my life (or at least my supper) more than once. And an incredible winery just up the road in the hamlet of Sulphide that is poised to become world-famous. And fantastic public libraries in Madoc and Tweed. And so on.
Our schools are among the most precious of our local services. The economies of our rural municipalities need people to come and live and work and open businesses and pay taxes here. If we lose schools, people with families (or who might someday have families) are less likely to do that. And then things just get worse. On the other hand, a vote of confidence in a school is a huge vote of confidence in the community it serves, and can be a major shot in the arm to that community’s economy and well-being and future.
Does the Ontario government want to support rural economies and rural life? Let’s hope the answer to that is yes. Let’s hope that the protests on behalf of rural schools that took place at Queen’s Park yesterday (yet another development in the past 36 hours) will have an impact.
Meanwhile, what can we, as ordinary folks who live in a rural area, do to try to save Madoc Township Public School? As you’ll have seen from the school board’s timeline, over the coming months there will be quite a few board meetings and consultation meetings and “public” meetings (I put “public” in quotation marks because all of these meetings are, or should be, open to the public – the people who, through their property taxes, pay the freight). We need to attend those meetings. And we need to come prepared. We need, to use a classic educational turn of phrase, to do our homework.
Stomping into a public meeting and shouting, “You can’t close my school!” is not constructive, and not all that helpful to anyone. If you’re going to push back against a proposal like a school closure, you should have a workable alternative or two up your sleeve:
- What are the reasons the board administrators have for suggesting the school be closed – the school’s drawbacks and shortcomings? What suggestions can we come up with to mitigate those?
- What is the financial reality the board is facing? What ways can we come up with to help it achieve its financial obligations while keeping our school open?
- Why do the board administrators think things would be better for our kids if they went to a different school? What evidence can we supply to show that this isn’t – or at least needn’t be – the case?
- What haven’t the board administrators thought of? What interesting and creative and exciting ideas can we come up with for our school that will help it better serve our community and, at the same time, allow the board to meet its provincially set financial targets?
Creativity will be required. The proverbial thinking outside the box.
Bravery will be required. It can be scary to put forward counter-proposals to those made by educational bureaucrats who are paid to come up with them, and are well-trained in the lingo and the tactics of defending their proposals.
But politeness, and kindness, and consideration for the plight the trustees and those school-board administrators find themselves in, are also really important. A polite and constructive dialogue will generally go a lot farther in resolving a problem than will a nasty shouting match.
That said: Creativity, again. Bravery, again. And hard work (getting names on petitions; getting people out to meetings; brainstorming ideas). And research.
And most of all: a determination to stand up for what’s best for our kids and our community.