Ten months after government announcement to fund access to schools – Government web site shows only 48 Boards of 72 have signed on
On July 9, 2004 members of SPACE along with many youth, seniors, and community-based groups were present to celebrate the Ontario Government’s community use of schools announcement in Toronto. Minister of Education, Gerard Kennedy and Minister of Tourism and Recreation, Jim Bradley symbolically cut a chain to symbolize a commitment to a new era of restored access to schools as hubs of our communities. Implementation of the policy was assigned to the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation. Minister Kennedy indicated that the government was taking a voluntary approach with Boards, since they were confident to get 100% participation across all Boards in exchange for the $20 million of new funding.
SPACE applauded the announcement as a significant step in the right direction. However, there have been several problems:
- There have been long delays and we have fallen far short of 100% participation among Boards of Education across Ontario. This long process has delayed the restoration of affordable access to our public schools. It is uncertain whether our schools will have more activity this spring and summer due to the lags in implementation and the lack of information flowing to local communities.
- According to the government’s web site as of mid-May , 48 of 72 School Boards are participating. However, public remarks have been made by the Assistant Deputy Minister that as of the end of April: 64 out of 72 Boards have signed on.
- While participating Boards are reducing fees, there are wide inconsistencies on fees across the province. The Provincial policy framework calls for more consistency and SPACE will continue to push for action to reduce the patchwork of access across our province.
- Boards of Education which have signed on have not promoted the reduced fees sufficiently. Many community groups left the schools as fees were hiked over the past five years. They require more information to encourage them to return to schools to offer programs.
- Community groups are uncertain whether the $20 million for 2004-2005 will continue next year, affecting their planning for fall-winter 2006. SPACE has long advocated that we need more than a band-aid solution. The Ministry of Tourism and Recreation has informed us this is an ongoing program with the $20 million secured. SPACE has advocated for increased funding in budget year 2005-2006 but that has been uncertain.
Need for transparency : SPACE calls on the Ontario Government to release publicly their Policy & the School Board Agreements
Members of SPACE have been meeting with staff at the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation since the fall 2004 to work cooperatively and make recommendations to ensure this initiative is successful. We have consistently requested that there be full transparency on the implementation of this program.
We have not been successful to date in getting the government to release their Policy Statement on the community use of schools. We will continue to press for this information.
This is a joint policy statement between the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Tourism and Recreation. This policy is an Appendix of the Agreements between Boards of Education and the government. We are unclear why this document is not released, when it is the document that should set the tone for the government’s objectives and direction on this program. At the July 2004 announcement, Minister Kennedy and Bradley indicated this policy statement would be developed.
SPACE has also requested that Agreements between the Boards of Education and The Ministry of Tourism and Recreation be publicly available. These agreements establish benchmarks for local school boards to lower fees and promote more access to children, youth, seniors and low-income communities. If local communities are not familiar with these agreements it will be very difficult to assess if their Boards are living up to their agreements. We have not been successful in achieving public access to these Agreements. SPACE is considering submitting Freedom of Information requests from the Government for some specific Boards if we cannot get these agreements from the Ministry.
People for Education –Trends on community use of schools in secondary schools
On March 30, 2005, SPACE participated in the public release of People for Education’s 2005 Secondary School Tracking Report. This Tracking report looks at the impact of many facets of school functioning and programming across the province, including community use of schools.
“Since 2000/01 the percentage of schools that reported charging fees rose from 79% to a high of 94% ion 2002/2003. In our 2004-2005 survey, the percentage of schools charging fees decreased to 84%. For the first time, 16% of schools reported a decrease in the amount charged for community use.”
However, this report also noted that: “9% of schools charging fees reported an increase in the amount charged, compared to 45% in 2000/2001.”
We are encouraged by these trends and hope they continue and the pace is accelerated. While the percentage of schools increasing fees has slowed, considering the Government’s new policy on community use of schools we would hope that no schools would be increasing fees.
Success story –London Catholic Board signs agreement and reverses plan to hike fees –Local Basketball Tournament gets green light
Something wasn’t adding up. While the Government was providing funds to Board of Education to ensure more affordable access to schools for programs for children and youth, Ilene Watt from Basketball Ontario received alarming news from a London Ontario group that fees for an annual spring tournament were skyrocketing this year. Ilene Watt, shared the concerns with the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation: Why was the London Catholic District School Board hiking fees , instead of using the funding available to reduce them?
In the meantime, Carol Goar, a columnist from the Toronto Star, who has followed the community access to schools issue closely for several years wrote a column on the progress on the government’s new community use policy, including the fee hikes in the works in London Ontario and the impact on the local group.
Very soon after the media coverage, the London Catholic District School Board signed their Community Use Agreement, and a local media event was held with the local MPP . This was a victory for the local Basketball Group which would have their fees reduced, and be able to go forward with the annual tournament.
Tracking the Government’s Policy to Restore access to Schools
In order to provide feedback to the government from a community perspective, we need to track how this funding and policy is having an impact at a community level. In May/June 2005, the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto and several other social planning councils across Ontario in partnership with SPACE will be conducting a community survey to better understand the impacts of the new Provincial Community Use of Schools Policy.
This research will (a) assess the community awareness of the new reduced permit fees, (b) determine the impact of the new permit fee policy on community-based groups’ actual and intended access to local schools after-school, on weekends and in the summer and (c) identify priorities for further action on permit fee reductions . The results will be publicly released and recommendations will be shared with the Government, or local School Boards as appropriate. Social Planning Councils that will participate include: Quinte, Sudbury, and Halton.
What Can You Do? Keep in Touch with SPACE
Let us know how things are shaping up in your area/ School Board district. With your local stories we can do a better job ensuring that we push to fully restore affordable access to our schools. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org / 416-924-4646 ext 3482.
SPACE Coalition Mission:
The SPACE Coalition was formed in 2002 in response to skyrocketing permit fees that drastically reduced community access to schools and other community facilities, forcing the closure of many valuable community-based programs and activities. SPACE has led the campaign to re-open schools.
SPACE is comprised of: Boys and Girls Clubs of Ontario, Girl Guides of Canada-Ontario Council, Ontario Special Olympics, Basketball Ontario, Parks and Recreation Ontario, Provincial Sport Organization Council, United Ways of Ontario, Children Aid Society of Toronto, Applegrove Community Complex, Erin Hoops, Toronto Community Social Planning Council, Family Services Association of Toronto, Culturelink, and Scouts Canada-Greater Toronto Region, People for Education, Pro-Action Cops and Kids, Middle Years Matter Coalition.