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Public, Catholic boards won't be merging

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer


It appears the idea of amalgamating school boards to save money has been dropped by the Ministry of Education, much to the relief of the Renfrew County District School Board.

David Kaiser, newly elected RCDSB chairman, said he feels this is good news for Renfrew County school children and their parents.

“Amalgamating such a large geographic region as Renfrew County with another district in Eastern Ontario didn’t make sense,” Kaiser said.

“Rural boards like ours connect strongly with their communities and losing local representation would have been detrimental to our students.”

The worry was since Renfrew County is the smallest board, if such amalgamations had proceeded, there was the possibility of losing the local board office and being based out of Ottawa, Cornwall, Kingston, Belleville or North Bay.

The idea that the Ministry of Education was considering merging school boards in order to save on operating costs came as a surprise to boards across the province, who noted the government never even hinted they were looking at this option.

Then out of the blue it was announced the ministry was planning to begin consulting with its boards to explore the concept further.

The province hoped to save $26 million through the move.

Now, though, after careful consideration, the Ministry of Education has changed its mind, and has decided board amalgamations would not make any real difference in budget savings.

Deputy Minister George Zegarac, in a letter written to Ontario Directors of Education on Dec. 10, said they have decided to meet the savings target associated with board amalgamations through other means.

“The expectations of the education sector in helping to meet the Ministry of Education budget target remains unchanged. We still need everyone to do their part and we continue to work with boards and their communities to ensure student needs are met,” he stated in the letter.

Zegarac said Minister of Education Laurel Broten met with all the school board associations and staff during the last summer to get input.

“During pre-consultation sessions, many participants were clear this was not the right time to move forward with board amalgamations,” Zegarac said. “It was also shared with us there could be other ways to find savings.”

The deputy minister said the minister still expects boards to continue to exercise good judgement in the current fiscal environment.

“I encourage boards to make progress on the commitment you have expressed in the past several months in finding opportunities for more innovative partnerships and greater efficiencies,” Zegarac said.

“Protecting what we value most in education in Ontario in these tough financial times is a challenge that will require the best of our energies and ideas.”

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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