Why are music rooms closing?
Over the last few years, the Ministry of Education has made substantial changes to education funding.
As a result, a number of school boards have begun closing classrooms that were used for things like choir programs, Orff and core French. These “closings” save money for maintenance.
Declining enrolment, balanced budgets and lost “top-ups”
In 2014, the Ministry outlined a process for cutting education costs by between $200 and $500 million. The cuts were intended to reflect declining enrolment in Ontario schools, and to honour a political commitment to eliminate the deficit.
One recent change focused on school operations.
But it may have had an unintended consequence.
Ontario provides funding to school boards for things like heat, light and maintenance, based on a formula that “recognizes” a certain number of square metres per student. In recognition of the fact that not all schools fit the formula, the Ministry used to provide “top-up” funding for schools that appeared less than full. In a 2013 review, the Ministry said that 70% of Ontario’s schools were receiving support for space that was not being “used for core educational purposes,” and that top-up funding could “discourage boards from using their space more efficiently.”
Last year, the Ministry began eliminating the top-up funding. As a result, school boards are trying to find ways to reduce costs. One way is to close rooms that appear empty. That way, the board doesn’t have to pay to clean the rooms, change the light bulbs or repair damages.
What counts as a classroom? Ministry uses 1998 categories
This year’s 2016-17 Education Funding Technical Paper, says that the “Ministry has identified categories of instructional space for all elementary and secondary facilities of a board using the Report of the Pupil Accommodation Review Committee (August 1998).” The 1998 categories recognize (and thus fund) elementary school rooms such as libraries, cafeterias and instrumental music rooms. Rooms for things like science, art, French or vocal music are not funded. In secondary schools, funding for extra rooms is even more limited.
Music à la “cart”
The closed classrooms mean that music and core French teachers must travel from classroom to classroom (which is often the case in crowded schools). For music teachers it may mean transporting Orff and other instruments. For both music and French teachers, it means they can’t leave anything permanently set up. In an article in the Globe and Mail, Peel School Board’s Director, Tony Pontes said that he “understands the anger among teachers. But he said that his board, as with many others in the province, is being forced to deliver some classes on carts.”
Changes raise fundamental questions
Changes to funding and declines in student populations present both financial and educational problems, including:
- How can we afford to pay for schools that in some cases have as few as half the students they were built for?
- How can we make sure that students in small towns, attending small schools, have access to a wide array of programs and resources?
- How can we design an education funding formula that reflects the realities of today’s schools and that recognizes the importance of a broadly-based education?
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