Proceedings - Impacts of School Closures on Children and Communities

Social Planning Toronto hosted a lively discussion back in September on the issue of public use of schools, community hubs and school board processes in school closure situations. The audience included not only students and community members, but also a number of senior politicians and school trustees. Below you can find the proceedings notes compiled by Navjeet Sidhu as well as links to the presentation materials of the speakers.

Guest Speakers

  • Annie Kidder – People for Education/ Toronto Lands Corporation
  • Jessica Carriere – York University
  • Ranu Basu – York University Department of Geography
  • David Clanfield – University of Toronto

Jess Carrier – York M.A. Urban Planning/SPT Intern

  • Recreation can bridge many aspects of education, culture and the arts. Structured programs that emphasize child and youth development (or skills-based learning) are vital to the quality of life of individuals and communities, and to the economic competitiveness of cities.
  • There is a need for a comprehensive recreation strategy has been voiced by many, both inside and outside government, the development of this strategy requires a greater knowledge base articulating what currently exists, how the different pieces relate to each other, and what options could support a more effective, coordinated delivery of recreation programming.
  • Ontario has an infrastructure deficit estimated at more than $100 billion
  • University of Toronto economists showed a 2:1 payback on public funding for developmentally enriched child care created from the increased taxes paid by working parents
  • An important first step would be a national statement that a system of universally accessible high quality recreation programming is a goal to be developed across Canada
  • Currently almost all government FUNDING ALLOCATIONS are directed at recreation infrastructure and infrastructure improvements. A gap seemed to exist here. Why is $ not directed to program quality and staff training?
  • There seems to be a renewed focus on place-based (or area-based) policy in local government, i.e. See Pascal’s report “With Our Best Futures in Mind” (a report on all day learning for 6-12 year olds. Pascal does recognize, however, that policies targeted solely to disadvantaged communities actually miss the majority of vulnerable children
  • Vulnerable children are not limited to low-income families since many “vulnerabilities” are not income sensitive. His analysis shows that the majority of vulnerable children – more than 60 per cent– live in moderate or middle-class families.
  • There is a need for structured, city-wide programs that go beyond targeted place-based initiatives. This will ensure that no children are excluded due to their location, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

Annie Kidder – People for Education

  • School closures and under enrolment a provincial issue
  • In Ontario, there were 16 school closures in 2008, 34 by June 2009, and 29 are slated to close in 2010
  • 146 schools will be closing or are recommended to close across all of Ontario
  • Two main factors contributing to school closures are declining enrolment and provincial education funding formula
  • People for Education’s position on this issue is not to fight school closures, but rather rethink how we want to use our new schools
  • The provincial funding formula does not take into consideration multi-purpose use of school rooms
  • The Toronto Lands Corporation (TLC) manages TDSB school properties no longer in use, in order to eventually sell off for maximum value/profit
  • All decisions about school buildings rest with the TDSB. There is a process put in place when a school is scheduled to close (i.e. who can eventually buy it). The TDSB can put parameters on the sale of a school
  • The Early Learning Plan is the model for community use of schools and schools as community hubs. This plan must be universal in order to be successful, with municipalities and school boards working closely together. This should not be directed solely to priority neighbourhoods. It is the key to saving schools from closure.

Ranu Basu – Department of Geography, York University

  • The geography of school closures is important in terms of place-based policy
  • Schools are important sites for social capital, and help to develop community identity
  • This work provide a conceptual framework to measure conditions conducive for social capital formation within neighbourhood and schools (power of civic agency)
  • Examines how social capital varies by the underlying neighbourhood structure (structural dimensions of power)
  • Note its relationship with school closure decisions (rationality or power)

Summary of Study Findings:

  • Neighbourhood Density does matter: in general, higher densities less likely to be involved in school closure decisions
  • Parental activities in schools more likely to attract those with high education levels and less likely to attract those with low education levels and low income
  • Schools providing neighbourhood-revitalising programs, especially those used by marginal groups, were affected most by school closures. These programs were more likely to be used by families disadvantaged along the lines of income, language ability, education, or other resources.

(See full study: Basu, R. (2004). A Flyvbjergian perspective on public elementary school closures in Toronto: a question of `rationality' or `power'? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 2004, 22:423-451.)

David Clanfield – New College, University of Toronto

Presentation: Hubs not Hulks: Turning schools into community hubs instead of closing them

  • Hubs are a part of community development, by ways of strengthening public education, preserving public assets, building stronger communities and rooting curriculum in community.
  • The ‘hub’ idea has two definitions: 1- schools as nodes in learning networks and 2- school facilities as multi-purpose neighbourhood centres
  • Hubs are not a new idea. They are a long time feature of village schools across the globe, and a feature of the pedagogical reform movement
  • Schools act as or provide, daycare, family services, public health, food, kitchens, garden, intergeneration learning centres, culture, fitness and recreation
  • Many groups in favour, such as SPT, People for Education, City, Charles Pascal
  • Hubs need to be a locally developed and driven process with stakeholders from all sectors involved (e.g. City, boards, non-profits, etc)
  • Barriers towards hubs: insufficient provincial support, broken funding formula, maintenance backlogs, provincial incentive to dispose of surplus school space
  • We need to “change the frame”, such as decentralization of school management (i.e. school boards have been replaced by local education committees in the U.K. or a split system in France where school programs and staffing fall under the purview of the Ministry)
  • However, these are not conducive to integrative hub development
  • This requires a new joint local governance structure- School Facilities Board (SFB)
  • Basics of the SFB: boards of delegated elected trustees and councillors, responsibility of maintaining school sites and facilities, responsible for capital school board projects, responsible for hub development. The provincial transfer of existing grants for sites improved.
  • School councils would become school community councils


  • The need for high security in schools (e.g. locked doors) is not an idea that should be perpetuated
  • There are examples of schools that follow a more “open door” policy with more freedoms that foster a more safe and welcoming environment. We need to develop community ownership of schools
  • School closures are a result of neo-liberal policies that hand public assets over to the private sector
  • The current funding formula benefits mostly larger schools. There may possibly be a provincial funding formula review in 2010
  • The education system has become less equitable under the Liberal government
  • ARC process does not include adult education
  • We need to ensure that our educational system also reflects the needs of an aging population
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