Group to rule on schools’ fate

[attach]1014[/attach]Tina Brown would rather renovate her home than move if it means keeping her two children at Rawlinson Community School.

Her daughter, 7, is enrolled in a French immersion program at the Hillcrest-area school, and has access to an international language program where she learns Cantonese.

Brown appreciates Rawlinson’s quality of programs, which is why she was concerned when she learned the school was listed as one of five facing possible closure.

The schools are being examined by an accommodation review committee starting this month.

The committee looks at neighbourhoods with low student enrollment, and decides whether or not to shift programming or close down schools altogether.

The announcement of the latest ARCs, which includes North Toronto schools like Briar Hill PS, and Fairbanks MS, has touched off a firestorm of debate with education groups, parents and experts all weighing in about whether schools should be allowed to close.

Though any final decisions are a long way off, the future of Rawlinson is up in the air, making parents like Brown uneasy.

It’s hard for some to understand, she said.

“There are houses being bought in our neighbourhoods left, right and centre with new families moving in. It seems shortsighted to talk about closure.”

Parents at other schools are just as concerned.

“It’s not the first time closing has been discussed,” said Deborah Adams, a parent rep from Humewood Community School, also up for review.

“The spectre has been raised whenever the board has talked about balancing the budget,” Adams said. “But we were taken by surprise at actually formally being added to the ARC process.

“We appreciate the board needs to balance its budget but we have a very strongly held feeling that we don’t want to be part of a dollars and cents formula.”

Cash management is a delicate balancing act no one in the board can escape, said Howard Goodman, school trustee for Eglinton-Lawrence.

He said the board is unable to build schools in new subdivisions in Scarborough because money is tied up in a number of half-occupied facilities in other parts of the city.

“We don’t have the money to build schools there,” Goodman said. “The kids in those houses are being bussed past three or four schools to get to facilities with space for them.”

With the province unwilling to shell out money for new schools to the already property-rich school board, Goodman said, tough decisions need to be made.

He emphasized school closures are just one possibility that may emerge, adding decisions will be made with community input.

Each committee is composed of principles, parents, trustees, superintendents, city councillors, and community members.

Goodman also denied school closures would spell doom for local communities.

“It’s not like northern communities where the town can literally disappear if the school disappears,” he said. “There will be adjustments and some people will be disadvantaged by whatever we do.

“But there’s damage that’s done by not doing anything.”

Still the prospect of school closures drew criticism from the People for Education, an independent parents group concerned with public education in Ontario.

“When boards say they have to close a school because they can’t provide services, it’s because the funding formula works less for smaller schools,” said executive director Annie Kidder.

She said the provincial formula, drafted in 1997, is outdated.

Kidder suggested instead of closing schools, existing school facilities should be turned into community hubs where various services could be integrated into one facility along with the school.

But Goodman said the board has no money to initiate community programs in existing school facilities and questioned the practicality of housing services such as parole offices and health clinics in school buildings.

To parents like Brown, the whole conversation seems rather strange.

“Maybe our school has to be more thoughtful about utilizing its space all the time in order to offset costs, but you know, that’s not really the business of a school. I mean, a school’s not a business.”

The committee will hold at least four public meetings between now and April when each committee will make its recommendations to the school board. Times and locations can be found at the [url=][/url]