Opening up Ontario’s Schools for Expanded Community Use: 2007 Community Use of Schools Survey Results and Recommendations
In 2005 the SPACE Coalition, in conjunction with the CSPC-T, undertook an Ontario-wide survey of community users of school space to assess their awareness of the provincially funded CUS program (Community Use of Schools). CUS was designed to reverse the loss of affordable access to schools by community groups, resulting from changes to the education funding formula in the late 1990s.
This year’s survey sought to assess the changes to community groups’ ability to access schools, resulting from the $20 million annual provincial investment in CUS.
According to the survey results, it appears there has been some progress in improving access to school space for some communities as a result of this infusion of funding. However, it is clear that many community groups continue to be excluded from this benefit, including groups working with children, youth, newcomers and seniors.
The survey’s findings identify the key barriers to increasing the community use of schools, including:
- Increasing fees in some jurisdictions despite CUS funding
- A patchwork of fee structures and application processes, and some Boards with very high fees.
- Insufficient availability of space in schools after school, on weekends, and during the summer.
- Inconsistent approvals of applications and restrictions to access at local school and Board levels.
Inadequate monitoring and public accountability for the CUS funds at a Board and Provincial level to inform areas for improvement and ensure the program fulfills the provincial policy statement on CUS.
The SPACE Coalition and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto recommend that the Ministry of Education and the Government of Ontario:
- Increase the funding for the Community Use of Schools so that school boards can lower fees further and have more space available throughout the year at more times including summer, weekends, evenings, and after-school.
- Improve the permit application process so it is straightforward, user-friendly, transparent, accessible and accountable.
- Improve accountability and the evaluation process.
The following bulletin elaborates on each of these points and suggests practical steps that the Ministry of Education can implement to move forward on each recommendation.
We applaud the Ministry’s strong policy statement that envisions schools as the hubs of communities, with a focus on access and equity, and believe this should be the compass setting for all future reforms of this program.