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The case for rural schools

(Queen's Park Report - February 8, 2011) Contrary to popular belief, there are times when I agree with Dalton McGuinty.  His commitment not to close rural schools was a good one.  The trouble is he didn't keep it.

In 2002 he said what a lot of people believe.  "If a rural community loses a school, it's not the same as shutting one down in downtown Toronto where there's another one six blocks away. What you're doing is robbing the community of an important component. It's the heart and soul of a community. If you don't have a school, it's really tough to attract and to hold on to young families."  I couldn't have said it better myself.
 
In 2007, after four years as Premier, with enrolment and financial data at his fingertips, he made a clear commitment.  "Rural schools help keep communities strong, which is why we're not only committed to keeping them open-but strengthening them."
 
In light of this unmistakable guarantee, why have there even been discussions about closing Elmvale District High School, Stayner Collegiate Institute, Duntroon Central, Byng Public School, Nottawa Elementary and so on.  Why was Tecumseth North Elementary allowed to close?   
 
It appears it is because Dalton McGuinty doesn't consider schools in our area to be rural.  That's ridiculous.  As I wrote in a letter to him last week, "The municipalities in my riding belong to the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.  The headquarters of the Rural Ontario Medical Program is situated not far outside of Duntroon in Collingwood.  We have a low population density and a vast agricultural community."
 
Schools are often the anchor of the neighbourhood and a vital piece of the local economy.  In rural communities, it's more than just enrolment numbers.  It is about attracting and retaining young families.  Once you close a school, it's really hard to get one back.
 
When I met with local families at Duntroon Central Public School recently, I was happy to be joined by Mayor Ken Ferguson, Deputy Mayor Alicia Savage and Councillors Orville Brown, Doug Measures and Thom Patterson.  Clearview Council clearly understands the big picture.  It's more than the parents and students of today; it's about the municipality as a whole and the viability of the communities within the township.
 
The situation is no different in Elmvale and Stayner.  If you close their high school then what is left?  Both communities have already lost their blood labs.  I can't accept declining access to healthcare and education in the communities I represent.
 
That's why I'm fighting back and urging people to speak up too.  School trustees in Ottawa are doing it.  They're fighting against Dalton McGuinty's broken funding promises in his own riding.  Why isn't that happening here?  Why are we accepting broken promises and orders from up high?  I got into politics to fight for the people I represent and to ensure that we get our fair share.
 
In all my years, I've never received a phone call or a letter from a constituent asking me to help get a rural school closed.  It hasn't happened because it doesn't make sense.  Let's not accept this, let's do something about it.  You can help by writing a letter to Dalton McGuinty or by signing the petition on my website at www.jimwilsonmpp.com. 

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