What is the real cost of closing rural schools? (2017)

By Rejean Pommainville, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

There’s an alarming trend in rural Ontario. Schools are closing down and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is very concerned about the impact these closures will have on our children, our families and our rural communities.

Part of OFA’s role in our work as an advocacy organization is to ensure farm families have a sustainable future and a viable business environment. Our work includes issues that directly affect farmers, and the well-being of our rural communities affects farm families and businesses.

Consider what Chapman’s Ice Cream company did in its community. Chapman’s realized that the proximity of good schools would be a major issue for attracting good employees. So Chapman’s contributed a million dollars to renovate the local school. It is admirable on their part to show such leadership and disheartening the Ontario government has yet to recognize the relationship between economic development and available social infrastructure including schools.

When you close a rural school, you close it off for the entire community, not just the students. In rural Ontario, schools play a much bigger role. They aren’t only a place for learning. School buildings are often used for community social events, local sports activities, and service and community groups.

Our rural communities are already suffering from the departure of our youth and families to opportunities in urban Ontario. We are working to reverse this trend. But to revitalize our communities we need economic development and social infrastructure to work lock-step.

We need job opportunities for young families and we need to support the families who move to these areas – and those families need a solid school system in their community.

It’s difficult to calculate the cost to rural communities when schools close. The OFA, as well as the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures, have called on the government for additional analysis of the social and economic impact of closing rural schools. We need to account for the full impact and “cost” on students and the entire community when a school closes.

These “costs” are hard to quantify but all have a significant impact on students, their parents and the rural community when a rural school closes.

OFA believes the review process used to determine which rural schools to close, is flawed.

We agree with the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures and Association of Ontario Municipalities that the Accommodation Review Committee process, and resulting guidelines, need to be redone. OFA also believes the funding formula for rural schools must be reviewed.

Yes, budgets are tight but in order to fully recognize the economic potential of rural Ontario and to bring families back, we need to have the supporting infrastructure available when they arrive. 

Rural schools are central to the health and wellbeing of our rural communities. OFA will continue to work on behalf of our members to support strong communities.

For more information, contact:

Rejean Pommainville
Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Neil Currie
General Manager
Ontario Federation of Agriculture


Jim Clark says on January 27, 2017 at 3:14 PM

The timing of this piece is amazing. We are residents of Beaverton, Ontario and the Durham District School Board is planning on closing Thorah Central Public School (the more rural school, where a lot of the students live on farms, are involved in 4H and farm events, and have to travel up to an hour on the school bus to and from school), demolishing the "close to historic" Beaverton Public School and building a new school at the existing Beaverton Public School site at a cost in excess of $13 million. I do not know how this can be justified as both schools are in "good shape", whereas the provincial (and federal) economy is not. Your piece hits the dilemma right on the head. In the closing of the two schools I just mentioned, the DDSB counted all those who did not object (by eMail or voice mail) to the amalgamation of the two existing schools and the building of a new school as a vote in favour. It is hard to comprehend how a non-vote can be construed as a vote in favour of a new school, rather than a vote for "status quo" (leaving the two existing schools as is). The majority of the town school (Beaverton PS) students walk. 100% of the Thorah Central students travel to and school by school bus or get rides from their parents. The life-styles of the students at the town site are different from the kids living rurally. It is so sad to see this happen and it makes you wonder what their agenda really is. Thank you for listening.

John Roung says on January 27, 2017 at 4:39 PM

The Harrow High School was closed in fall 2016 with significant impact on local town and farm families. Meetings with premier Wynne were useless as Ontario Government had clearly decided beforehand that local school would be torn down and new/additional investment placed in mega schools at more significant towns. Local business affected negatively. Other municipally operated facilities for kids losing activities and attractiveness. ie parks/arenas. Attractiveness of real estate in small community reduced. Now perfectly suitable high school sits idle while students being bused to locations further away--less family time and less opportunity for students in extra curricular activities at new schools and less time for helping with family farm activities. What a shame!!!

Dawn Berry Merriam says on January 28, 2017 at 9:07 AM

This is an excellent overview of what has been happening in Ontario since the 1960's. Once a school closes there is a real issue for younger families coming to a community or being able to continue to live there. As many of us work to build/maintain sustainable communities we have to ensure we have that social and economic infrastructure as well as a strong environmental health. More work is needed at all levels of community decision making to make sure that we maintain our schools, businesses and services. Great overview of the issues.

Juliette St Pierre says on January 30, 2017 at 4:06 PM

Proposal to close St Ambroise (Francais) French school, St Joachim ON for Sept 2017. To move children from that school to St Paul Stoney Point. They have a French school there and an English school. This would leave this community with no school and the church, St Joachim was closed a quite a few years ago after much controversy. Why not leave a school in each community? This came about quite quickly without much public consultation. A rural community drawing from the Belle River, St Joachim, Comber, Staples to Leamington area. Development hasn't occurred in this area thus no new families or growth. The neighbouring community of Belle River is where the growth is with over crowed schools... the Town of Lakeshore is a fast growing community but only growth in the central area of the town. The outlaying areas are suffering.... thus the talks of amalgamation of the St Ambroise and St Paul School. High winds/tornado hit the St Ambroise gym and a shoddy repair job was done/allowed by the Catholic French Board ( from conversation from local parents) so they can say the school needs millions in repairs. We need t keep rural schools open as this provides close access to playgrounds and local sports in the community. These young children will be bused and endure long bus rides to and from school even though they say they are only 20 minutes away. Maybe the Trustees need to take the bus ride prior to making their decision on closing school in rain, snow, sleets and foggy days to see first hand what is at stake here with the safety of the children being bused to such a great distance... grandson living on Cty Rd 27, and later a grand-daughter age 4 from South Woodslee, now travelling to St Ambroise, and with the closing travelling to St Paul on Hwy 77, north of Tecumseh Rd, Stoney Point. - from 1467 County Rd 27 (19.6 km) via County Rd 42 to St Ambroise, St Joachim - from 1467 County Rd 27(18.6 km) via Essex County Rd 2 and Comber Sideroad to St Paul. Point aux Roches

Therese O'Connor says on February 10, 2017 at 12:32 PM

I just came across this article today. It really had me thinking about our school here in St. Agatha, Ontario. We have been fighting school closure reviews since 2009. We had a small victory in 2014 and thought we had another five years to remain open while a new school was being built. However, the Catholic school board sent home school closure review notices in June of 2016. A final decision will come in March 2017. During the public meetings held at the school the only options are for St. Agatha CES is closure and put the students in St. Clements and Holy Rosary thus splitting friends and families. The plight of rural schools is frightning. It's an injustice to education and the communities involved.

Susan Litwin says on May 23, 2017 at 1:13 PM

I am glad the OFA has made rural education a top priority. The school closures in Ontario will indeed affect the opportunities for rural students, as well as the whole agricultural industry. One situation of particular concern is emerging in the southwestern Ontario. The Lambton Kent District School Board administration has made initial proposals to close all of the high schools in the small communities of rural Chatham-Kent, including those in Tilbury, Blenheim, Ridgetown, and Dresden. One proposed scenario replaces the under-enrolled schools in South Kent with a single super high school to be built at a location outside of any of the existing communities (i.e. near the Hwy 401 corridor). All students would have to be bused in from an attendance area the size of Essex County (i.e. over 40 km from the southwest and east regions of South Kent). This over-consolidation will have the greatest impact on the most-distant communities, Tilbury and Ridgetown. Ridgetown, with a current population of 3,000, cannot afford to get any smaller. If it loses its appeal as a destination for post-secondary students, it will be more difficult for the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus to attract the increasing number of students needed to satisfy the growing demand for qualified grads in Ontario’s agricultural industry. With the students only in town for 7.5 months each year, they alone cannot sustain the town economically. With the closure of U of G Kemptville Campus in 2015, the Ridgetown Campus is the only place in Ontario to receive a comprehensive agricultural diploma education. No one can predict the future, but there is certainly reason for concern.

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