UNITED COUNTIES of SD&G, Ontario – Opting to remove regional politics from the equation, SDG Counties Council decided to hire a consultant to come up with a unified rural education plan. Counties Council supported the move at its December 21st meeting.
The move follows a contentious meeting in November when it appeared that not all areas of the county were working together on a rural education plan.
“I think the best way forward for us and develop an advocacy document that we can really use to promote rural education,” CAO Tim Simpson said adding that it wasn’t just for the region but at provincial conferences and with government officials. “I think this is the way to go.”
Simpson said the goal was to engage a consultant that had experience in education and knows how to navigate around the education system, school boards and get data to assist in creating a plan.
If approved, he said that he would be seeking input from councillors, staff, and public to create a terms of reference for the education consultant and then undergo the Request For Proposal process.
Once selected, a working group would be formed to work with the consultant on a plan with the hopes of completing it by Summer 2021.
Simpson did not say what the composition of a working group would look like or if there would be public input in creating the plan.
He said the timing to undergo this planning process was right.
“Everyone is consumed with COVID-19 right now so it is a good time to do this,” Simpson said. “Hopefully it will dove-tail nicely with getting a real professional document so we can go forward and say ‘look, you’ve told us rural education is important, here’s a way forward in our region that we think you should talk to us about.’”
Counties councillors were supportive of hiring a consultant.
“I think it will bring all the pieces together and it’s nice to have the non-political view on this,” said Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas). “Hopefully we will be able to get a consultant that not only knows about education but also funding formulas that the government uses. I think this is the way and hopefully we’ll find someone good.”
Councillor Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry) said that he thought this was the best idea going forward and that having someone who is not politically involved will “bring everybody in together” on a plan.
Councillor Al Armstrong (North Dundas) said he would like to see a consultant who does not necessarily come just from an educator or school board background.
“With no disrespect to any of them, but that does sort of skirt the fine line of repetition in a different coat,” he said. “As we all spend a certain amount of time in certain vocations, you do become a bit familiar and forget the fact that we’re looking for a bit of innovation.”
He added that during the County’s strategic planning process, many councillors voiced their concerns about rural education in SDG Counties.
“We’ve all indicated we’re not really happy with the education system that we have,” Armstrong said. “One of our main priorities was to change the approach to how we get our youth prepared for life so the same-old, same-old is not going to work.
Councillors unanimously supported the action request and Counties CAO Tim Simpson said that the consultant would be a item for the draft 2021 budget.
This story was originally written for, and appeared in, The Morrisburg Leader.