Should School Boards or the Province Determine Where Schools are Built

The discussion over whether or not Wasaga Beach should have its own high school and what plans may be in the works to restructure Collingwood Collegiate has triggered a larger discussion regarding the effectiveness of the current Public and Catholic School Board systems in Ontario.

The most recent chapter in the ongoing high school debate at various committee levels and levels of government has tied the perceived limited lifespan of Collingwood Collegiate to the conversation. It has become apparent that the future of CCI will determine what type of secondary school will be built in Wasaga Beach, and the timeline mentioned is less than ten years.

January 26th Letter from Minister of Education to Mayor of Wasaga Beach

In a letter written to Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith on January 26, 2018, Minister of Education Indira Naidoo-Harris stated that the Ministry of Education is prepared to provide the Simcoe County District School Board with provincial funding to assist with property acquisition for a secondary school:

As has been discussed previously, provincial legislation sets out that decisions regarding pupil accommodation are the responsibility of locally-elected school boards. As such, the Ministry does not direct specific accommodation proposals from boards.

However, I strongly believe that Wasaga Beach would be an ideal home for a future secondary school. Given the community’s growing elementary population, as well as growth in the adjacent communities, I understand that the SCDSB will need to plan for additional secondary capacity in the foreseeable future.

It is my understanding that the school board currently has a property designated for a secondary school in the development lands of the Town of Wasaga Beach and this plan has not yet been registered with the Town. The Ministry is prepared to provide the SCDSB with provincial funding to assist with the acquisition of this designated secondary school site as soon as it is ready. It is my request that the town and the board take all necessary planning steps to secure the site forthwith.

At the March 28th meeting of the Simcoe County District School Board in Midhurst, Vice Chair Jodi Lloyd stated that the Board is working of a plan to purchase land for a future high school in Wasaga Beach. She said the Board anticipates the need for a new secondary school to be five to seven years in the future, not now.

“Yes we’re moving to purchase the site but there is not an urgency to the site. Just because you purchase the site it does not mean that funding for a new high school is coming or construction of a new high school is in the near future. We’ve owned sites for ten years and then sold them because the population growth didn’t develop as anticipated. “

No Discussion On Collingwood Collegiate Rebuild Has Been Made Public

While Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper chose not to comment on this matter, Collingwood Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson said council has not had any dicussions regarding any possible rebuild of Collingwood Collegiate Institute.

“While there has been no discussion to date about the future of CCI involving Council that I am aware of, CCI is a regional high school that has served the youth of Collingwood and the surrounding area including Wasaga Beach for generations. It is part of our community fabric and Council will want to be involved in any discussions about its future moving forward.”

Former Collingwood Mayor Questions Whether the Board of Education Should Determine Building Sites

Former Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier questions whether or not it should be the School Board’s decision in determining where a new school build should occur.

Speaking on the April 1, 2018 edition of “The Wise Guys” on 97.7 The Beach, Carrier pointed to a recent development in Nova Scotia where the Province plans to eliminate regional school boards.

The CBC reported that Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill said the government will move ahead with a recommendation to eliminate all of the province’s seven regional school boards.

The report stated the Nova Scotia government will move forward with a recommendation to dissolve the province’s seven elected regional school boards and instead create one provincial advisory council made up of people appointed by the minister of education.

Carrier said similar to the Nova Scotia developments, when it really matters, it is the Province of Ontario that steps in to make tough decisions when it comes to education.

“The position of the Ministry of Education in Nova Scotia is that we are responsible for capital funding. We are really responsible for negotiating salaries with teachers and support staff in the school systems. Well, the same here. For the big ticket items it’s the province that is dictating the funding formulas and pay to their employees.”

Carrier said he believes at the least the planning authority in determining where schools are constructed should be taken away from school boards and given to regional and county level governments so they can plan the best on how communities are.

“We are having to meet the litmus test by the province by sustainable communities. Putting schools on raw land on your outskirts and then having subdivisions built up around them is not sustainable. I think it’s time that the Province really takes a look at whether or not the school board system is working , and I don’t think it is.”

Trent Gow is a semi-retired professional public policy advisor and advocate. He now lives in Wasaga Beach and previously sat on the Town’s High School Task Force. He is the co-host of “The Wise Guys” radio program on 97.7 The Beach where he stated that in his opinion the whole school board system in the Province of Ontario is broken.

“Broken is probably understating, it’s a disaster. Look at the Toronto Board, look at the York Board being dysfunctional, having to have trusteeships put in, I think the track record of the Bluewater and Simcoe Boards is equally bad. I think if I were the Mayor (of Wasaga Beach) if I were the Task Force right now, I would be going to Dan Hambly the Liberal candidate, I’d be going to Jim Wilson, the Conservative Member, and I’d say we want you to commit and be accountable for bringing a high school to Wasaga Beach. Will you or will you not do it?”

Gow went on to suggest that the time has arrived to eliminate the Catholic School Board.

“Why would you possibly have Catholic and Public high schools when they’re not allowed to teach religion? They are completely competitive and it’s inefficient and ineffective.”

With provincial and municipal elections in the offing, the conversation of structure, funding and the future of public school boards will grow. Here in Collingwood and Wasaga Beach, we are likely to become a key player in a game of political hot potato.

(Chris Carrier and Trent Gow comments were taken from the April 1st Wise Guys radio show on 97.7 The Beach. The program goes to air every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.)

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