Ontario Votes 2014

Ontario Votes: Kathleen Wynne slams door on school board mergers

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne threw cold water Tuesday on the idea of merging the public and Catholic school board systems, taking issue with her own candidate in Sudbury who yesterday said the idea was "worth looking at."
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne checks student attendance on a smart board during a visit to Holy Cross school in Sault Ste. Maire, Ont. during a campaign stop on May 27, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne threw cold water Tuesday on the idea of merging the public and Catholic school board systems, taking issue with her own candidate in Sudbury who said yesterday the idea was "worth looking at."

Speaking at Holy Cross School in Sault Ste. Marie this morning, Wynne firmly slammed the door on any talk of a merger.

"Yes, school boards need to work together and yes, school boards need to be creative when it comes to creating the best learning environments for kids," she said. "But we are supporting the school system as it exists."

Wynne pointed out that the school where she was speaking was created by combining four schools.

The Liberal leader's comments followed remarks yesterday by Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Oliver, who called amalgamation "a great idea" that would save tax dollars.  

Green Party favours merger  

The idea of amalgamating school boards gained new life a couple of weeks ago when the Green Party released its platform, which calls for the merging of the public and Catholic boards.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said merging the province's public and Catholic school boards into one system would save the province more than $1 billion a year.

The Greens are the only party to call for such a merger. 

Wynne called talk of merging school boards a "distraction" and said there were too many other important things to do in education.

She defended her party's education record, noting that 83 per cent of students now graduate from high school, up from 68 per cent in 2003. She also plugged her party's plan for a three-year, $150-million technology and learning fund.  

"This is a fund that would help students to buy tablets and software, cameras and other learning devices," she said. "That $150 million would also provide support to teachers so that they can get the professional development and the training that they need in order to use the technology and use it in a way that allows the kids to learn to best advantage."

Math scores

But speaking in Toronto on Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal record on education needs work, making a reference to a recent OECD report that showed math scores had slid in Ontario.

"It's very concerning that we've seen the math scores slide for kids in our school systems so we need to get at how we get them to improve those scores," she said. 

"I'll be working with [educators] to set a new path to put kids on a better track when it comes to getting those math scores up."

Similar concerns over slipping math scores came Monday from PC Leader Tim Hudak during a campaign stop in Thornhill, Ont.

"I would bring in math specialists in our province to make sure we have the best results in mathematics," he said. "I'll also bring in a new test for Grade 8 in science, because we're falling badly behind other countries we're going to compete with for jobs." 

The Ontario Public School Boards Association has declared May 27 Education Day in the province. An all-candidates meeting in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore Tuesday night will be focused on education.

Post-secondary education

All three parties have promised to make changes to Ontario's post-secondary system, but all fall short of a passing grade as far as a group representing 17,000 university professors and librarians is concerned.

"The Liberal's plan seems to be one of benign neglect, the NDP's proposal does not go far enough and the PC's proposals would lead to outright devastation of post-secondary funding," according to Kate Lawson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

"According to the party platforms, Ontario's universities don’t warrant much attention," Lawson said. "But those of us who work and study in the sector know that chronic underfunding is taking its toll on our universities and the education our students receive."

In an interview with CBC, Lawson said Ontario is at the "bottom of the pack" in Canada. "We are a wealthy province and Canada needs Ontario to be a leader in public sector post-secondary education, not at the bottom of the pack.

"Innovation will suffer, the economy will suffer, students will suffer and their families will suffer. So I think for all those reasons it's really important that there be renewed public investment in higher education."


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