Residents' association fights to keep schools open

Downtown residents are mobilizing to head off the possible closure of four public elementary schools.

Local politicians, activists meet to discuss potential school closures

Matt Wachna, the secretary of the Downtown Residents' Association says he wants the city to fight the provincial funding model for schools. (CBC)

Downtown residents are mobilizing to head off the possible closure of four public elementary schools.

The Downtown Residents' Association held a meeting Thursday that brought the public together with trustees, teachers, Coun. Rino Bortolin and NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky.

The association is now going to pull together people from across the city to take a united message to the provincial government to change the formula which funds school boards based on enrolment.

Funding is reduced if a school has too many empty spaces.

"This is not working for our city," said Matt Wachna, the secretary of the residents' association. "It's not working for the province, so you need to change this now."

"We're not targeting one particular school, we're really looking at long-tern as well as short-term goals," he said. 

One option presented to keep schools open is to spread French immersion programs around to schools with low enrollment instead of centralizing the program in a handful of locations.

A report is going to the board next month which may recommend closing Prince Edward school, Dougall Avenue Public School and Queen Victoria School and build a new school.

It would also close Hugh Beaton School and transfer the students to John Campbell school.

Public board facing $3.75-million deficit  

MPP Lisa Gretzky said the NDP has been trying to get the Ontario Liberal government to change the funding formula but has been unsuccessful.

"It's an issue we have brought up over and over again," Gretzky said. "We wanted the government to work with us. They are just unwilling."

Gretzky slammed the province for a funding formula that encourages closing older schools and amalgamating school communities into larger, newer schools.

She claimed the province is blaming school board trustees for closures when she says the formula ties the hands of trustees who must balance their budgets.

Public board trustee Alan Halberstadt said the board is facing a $3.75-million deficit and but are seeing $700,000 per year in funding cuts.

"The choice is to cut programming or staffing or start closing some schools," Halberstadt said. "We are regulated by the balance our budget or they will come in and take over."