Ministry recognizes need to change school closure process

by Melissa Schneider St. Thomas-Elgin Weekly News

For some schools, the announcement made June 28 by Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter that new school closures are on hold comes too late, but it has Sparta Public School EPAR subcommittee chair Heather Derks hoping the recent decision to close her school will be reversed.

“In light of the ministry’s announcement that the Elementary Pupil Accommodation Review (EPAR) process is being overhauled, it’s our belief that Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) must withdraw the decision made to close our school,” she said.

TVDSB trustees voted May 23 to close Springfield Public School, New Sarum Public School, and Sparta.

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek said Minister Hunter’s announcement calling the process flawed should definitely impact the three area schools slated for closure, and that the government should correct the funding formula for rural schools before instituting a new accommodation review process.

“While our community looks forward to the new school in Belmont and accepts the closures of South Dorchester and Westminster, I urge the TVDSB to revisit their decision to close Sparta, Springfield and New Sarum,” he said. “This is the right thing to do for our children, our parents and our community.”

Derks explained parents at Sparta want TVDSB to overturn their decision, wait until the new process and funding formula is in place, and give the school a chance to save itself under the new model.

“We won’t consider our decision fair in light of this new announcement. The minister’s saying the guidelines are flawed, so why was the decision to close our school valid if it was made under a flawed guideline?”

She added re-opening the discussion would give trustees the chance to do the right thing by saving a thriving, single-school community that has the opportunity to be successful under the new funding formula.

The decision to put a moratorium on new school closures does not include a provision for those schools already marked for closure, but New Sarum and Springfield’s closures are contingent on ministry funding to build a new school in Belmont. TVDSB has until early September to submit capital build projects, with the province choosing which projects will go ahead.

The announcement by Hunter also included the creation of a new $20 million Rural and Northern Education Fund from which TVDSB is set to receive an additional $647,850.