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Minister Releases Report on Declining Enrolment
Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne has released Planning and Possibilities, the report developed by the Declining Enrolment Working Group (DEWG) appointed by the Minister in May, 2008.
The Ontario Public School Boards' Association took early action to ensure substantive public school board input into this work. The Association's Policy Development and Education Program Work Teams developed a comprehensive submission to the DEWG. A review of the final report of the Declining Enrolment Working Group reveals that OPSBA's input made a significant contribution to the recommendations in the Planning and Possibilities report.
Immediately upon the establishment of the Minister's Working Group last May, OPSBA took the following action:
- Representation to the Minister for special status in the process for OPSBA. This resulted in the establishment of an Advisory Group of school board associations. (June, 2008)
- Canvassing of all public school boards on the issues relevant to Declining Enrolment being studied by the DEWG (June-August 2008)
- Study of the Funding Formula related to Declining Enrolment issues by OPSBA's Finance Technical Advisory Group (July, 2008)
- Preliminary input to the work of the DEWG (August, 2008)
- Two-day working session of OPSBA's Policy Development and Education Program Work Teams to develop comprehensive OPSBA submission (September, 2008)
- Final approved OPSBA submission provided to the DEWG (September 30, 2008)
- Consultative meetings between the Advisory Group of school board associations and the DEWG (October through December, 2008)
OPSBA's input covered a full range of issues that focussed on student achievement as the driver of all decisions on declining enrolment. Specific recommendations were made with regard to changes to the funding formula. In addition, a strong emphasis was placed on: sharing facilities, resources and services; equity of funding across school systems; school closure/consolidation decisions that are geared to better conditions for students and streamlining of the Accommodation Review Committee process; support for the flexibility offered by Information and Communications technology to improve programming options for students; provincial leadership on promoting partnerships across boards, municipalities and ministries.
Analysis of the Declining Enrolment Working Group final report reveals that OPSBA's input strongly influenced the recommendations made to the Minister. This includes the redesign of the declining enrolment grant itself to make it more transparent and understandable and responsive to board costs as well as support for multi-year planning processes; requirements for partnerships among school systems, communities and municipalities; consolidation of funding for information technology for both classroom and administrative use; equitable access to broadband connectivity; making some savings from school consolidations available to boards for capital improvements; and a review of the ARC process that would include providing a streamlined process where this is warranted.
It must be acknowledged that this final report was developed in a context of severe economic decline. We believe that this limited the scope of some recommendations and the ability to respond to some of the financial pressures faced by boards. For example, while OPSBA recommended a transitional grant over four years, the report recommends that it remain over three years with most of the assistance weighted to the first two years. The report recommends that on a province-wide basis, school boards should receive at least the same amount of funding after the transitional funding changes as they would receive under the current calculation.
Other specific OPSBA suggestions will be dealt with through the upcoming funding model review.
Overall, it is clear that, in its deliberations, the Declining Enrolment Working Group has been very supportive of the suggestions made by OPSBA. The recommendations for tackling the issues of declining enrolment were well-considered and reasonable and put students and their education first and foremost.