French school board sues province to secure funding for new school in Hamilton

TORONTO – Education Minister Liz Sandals was puzzled Tuesday when a French Catholic school board announced it was launching a lawsuit claiming that students at an aging high school in Hamilton are not getting an education equal to that of anglophones.

The French Catholic board for south central Ontario (Conseil scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud) said it was suing to force the province to provide new premises for a Hamilton high school (Mere-Teresa), which it has been trying to replace since the 1990s.

The board knows it is supposed to make a business case for new schools, just like all the other school boards in the province, said Sandals.

“We’ve already told all the school boards that we’d have all our decisions for next spring about which business cases are successful and will be funded,” she said. “The process is really quite well known by all 72 school boards, so I don’t actually understand why the lawsuit.”

The province has already agreed to fund the purchase of land for a new school in Hamilton, noted Sandals.

“We understand they’d like to buy property that currently belongs to the Hamilton-Wentworth school board,” she told reporters, “And we’ve told them that if they agree on a price with the other board, that we actually would expedite the funding for the purchase of the property.”

The Opposition said the lawsuit shows the Liberal government is more concerned about keeping teachers’ happy than making sure students have the best facilities.

“This government’s priorities are more in line with negotiated settlements with teachers,” said Progressive Conservative education critic Rob Leone. “I don’t want my kid to be in a school where there’s no windows and no playground. I want my kid to be in an environment where they can learn.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who represents Hamilton Centre, said Ontario’s education funding formula is failing to meet the needs of boards and students.

“It’s a sad day when a school board has to file papers in court to sue the provincial government because kids have inadequate facilities in which to learn,” said Horwath.

The board complained the French high school in Hamilton is aging, has few windows and is on a lot so small it has no playground or sports field, but Sandals countered by saying it still has room for more students.

“They’re currently in a school with space for over 400 children, and my understanding is there’s currently less than 250 children, and we do have schools in each of 72 boards where they are asking to rebuild an older school,” she said.

The French board complained it had been unable to get a meeting with the Education Minister to discuss their need for a new school, but Sandals dismissed their concern.

“The process isn’t meet with the minister and the minister gives you money,” she said. “It’s submit a business case and we will review your business case.”

The school board, one of eight French-language Catholic boards in Ontario, is responsible for 15,000 students in 51 schools it operates in an area that includes Niagara, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Barrie, Toronto and Peterborough.