‘A downward spiral from which South Dundas will not be able to recover’: Dundas Federation of Agriculture

The Editor:

The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and dozens of other school boards across Ontario are currently in the midst of an extensive Pupil Accommodation Review (PAR).  The UCDSB’s “Building for the Future” plan being reviewed by the PAR process proposes amalgamating and/or closing several schools in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.  Two of three existing public schools in South Dundas township, Seaway District High School (SDHS) and Morrisburg Public School (MPS),  are slated for closure effective the end of this school year.  Students of Morrisburg PS would be bused 12 km away to Iroquois, where they would consolidate with Iroquois public school students in the empty high school. Seaway DHS students would be divided between two distant schools in neighbouring townships.

The Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA) opposes UCDSB’s plan for several reasons:

• Many students (who currently walk or bus to school in 30 min) will face bus rides up to 40 km long, potentially spending between two or 3 hours on the bus daily.  The mental and physical health toll on these kids will be immense, and they will lose opportunities for after school jobs and extra-curricular activities.  Farm kids who help with morning or afternoon chores will lose valuable time sitting on the bus, impacting their farm families and their own development as future farmers and citizens of rural Ontario.  Our local youth will have less time for family, homework, sports and play.   Furthermore, stores and other small businesses in South Dundas rely on student part time labour to operate, and on the business those students and their parents provide.

• The UCDSB’s proposed plan suggests sending the rural kids north of Highway 401 to North Dundas DHS and the “town kids” from Iroquois and Morrisburg to South Grenville DHS, leading to the separation of life-long peer support groups, the separation of kids from their Township and even County communities, and a reinforcement of the rural-urban divide.  Currently at Seaway DHS both town and rural kids have the opportunity to take part in a successful High Skills Major program in Agriculture.  Kids sent to South Grenville DHS will lose access to this program, and the opportunity to interact with rural kids, resulting in town kids becoming even further removed from the realities of farm life. Furthermore, this program operates through partnerships within the local agriculture and agri-business sector. These partnerships facilitate very important links between students and their community and provide them future opportunities for productive careers after graduation.

• Agriculture and agribusiness are huge economic drivers in the province, especially so in rural areas.  Today’s farmer is educated, innovative and highly skilled, but still as community minded as ever.  Taking away local schools will result in less time spent on the farm, and less incentive for farm kids to return to the farm after college or university.  All South Dundas youth will have less incentive to move back home to start their own families.  We predict our region will suffer a shortage of skilled professionals and young innovative farmers if our most important public institutions are closed. Who wants to subject their own future kids to life in a community that has no schools?  Closing these schools now will begin a downward spiral from which South Dundas will not be able to recover.

• Tax revenues generated by Agriculture and Agri-Business are vital to all levels of government.  Property taxes paid by farmers and farmland owners help pay for Ontario’s education system.  Recently farmers have been hit with revised farm land value assessments, in most cases seeing a doubling of their assessed values.  The township’s plan on property tax rates remains to be seen, but presumably farmers will be contributing a lot more money into municipal and provincial coffers beginning this year.  Yet rural schools are targeted for closure without adequate community consultation to identify practical solutions.  We expect any savings to the Ministry of Education will be offset by a decrease in economic growth in South Dundas. In addition, the province can expect additional expenses to health care and social services as the negative impacts of school closures are felt across South Dundas. Farmers feed cities, and now pay even more property taxes; our children deserve to be educated in their communities. Rural schools matter.

The DFA stands united with the students, parents, and schools of South Dundas against these proposed closures.  We understand the fiscal realities faced by the Ontario government and the school boards.  However, we firmly believe that a decision to close our schools will have a very costly impact on our kids, our farms, our rural communities and businesses, far outweighing any potential savings resulting from the closures.   We ask that the UCDSB vote to keep our schools open and pursue an open and transparent consultation with communities that identify solutions that support our communities.

Marty Derks
Dundas Federation of Agriculture


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