Last winter, as most of Waterloo Region was heavily engaged with the province’s formal review of regional government, another debate started in Toronto and gradually spread across Ontario.
The Queen’s Park Bureau Chief at one of the province’s major media outlets reported in mid-February that the Ford government was considering a reduction in the number of school boards. The details on this proposal were extremely limited, as nothing was disclosed in terms of time lines, costs (or cost savings) and the intended number of consolidations.
A frequent strategy utilized by all levels of government in Canada is to gauge public response to major changes through the practice of leaking (often anonymously) information to a media outlet, who in turn prints the story. Reaction to the report is then assessed by government and a decision to proceed or not is made.
The same strategy is also used by professional sports teams to determine how fans will react to potential player changes. Anyone following their team around the annual trade deadline will know the majority of rumoured deals get sidelined.
The idea of school board amalgamation, given the Ford administration’s preference for smaller government, evident in last year’s attempt to condense Toronto Council within weeks of an election, has lead many officials and organizations to consider the proposal very seriously. The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association issued a statement noting that forced amalgamations do not necessarily result in cost savings and can negatively impact the culture of boards, taking years to overcome.
Cost savings to municipalities has been mentioned quite prominently as a major discussion continues, with former Waterloo Region Chair Ken Seiling, on the future of two-tiered government. The concept of municipal and school board amalgamation is relatively unknown to us locally, as Region of Waterloo Council has had the same composition of cities and townships from its’ formation in 1973, and local school boards did not amalgamate with Guelph/Wellington, Perth or Oxford in the late 1990s when the practice was common in most rural areas.
This is a debate a long way from closure.