Second City, Second Metro: “clashes of opinion between urban and rural elements”

Fisher Heights Public School. As it likely had a kindergarten, some in Nepean Township considered it a “frill”. Image: City of Ottawa Archives, CA025528.

In its submission to the Jones Commission, the Nepean Township Public School Board outlined how it had been dealing with the changes brought on by suburbanization.

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     The township's public school system consisted of many rural school boards until the 1950's [sic] when the population shift from City to suburban areas demanded new and modern school construction and occasioned clashes of opinion between urban and rural elements over the provision of "frills" such as kindergartens, etc. From 1955 on, the township became increasingly urbanized with a small rural element on the fringes. Two township school area boards encompassing City View, Meadowlands, Parkwood Hills and Crestview were formed in 1959 and bore the brunt of the population explosion.

     Though primarily concerned with providing classroom space, Board consideration was given to kindergarten and other attributes of the modern public school system. New classroom space required more teachers and township teachers' salaries were increased to compete with those offered by Ottawa; fringe benefits were offered by some boards while others offered salary schedules exceeding those in Ottawa. At this time, however, Ottawa salaries averaged higher due to the youth of the Nepean teaching staff.

     From 1955 on, the heavy demand for classroom space forced some boards to rent additional space; the rising school debt reflected the township's population growth. Unequal commercial development and the lack of zoning spread the cost of education unevenly across the township leading to demands for amalgamation. The rural fringe, unable to supply modern education facilities, closed their small schools and purchased education from the bigger rural or township area boards.

     There was and is divided opinion on the merits of amalgamation. The decision for amalgamation was made by the township council in 1964 however, and subsequently the provincial authorities acted, making it province wide.

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     Bigness itself is not necessarily a virtue. The higher standard of education will be accompanied by increased administrative costs offsetting any increase in provincial grants, increased permanent staff, and the inherent costs of a municipal inspectorate. 

     Public School education in Nepean compares favourably with that of the Ottawa Public Schools. The teaching staff is maturing and financial improvements are seen yearly. The township's first intermediate school is underway and extensions to the existing psychology service and remedial program for slow learners are planned. A program for gifted children will be developed. The two remaining two-room schools will shortly cease to exist.

     The five-trustee school board might stand expansion as developing the new system is an immense task. This will be less burdensome as an enlarged administrative staff becomes familiar with its job.

     With amalgamation achieved, time is now direly needed to consolidate and reorganize the system to meet modern standards. There is no need for further change in the present structure for some time to come.



     Presenting the Brief were Mr. F.E. Arlett, Chairman, Mrs. J. Harris and Messrs. C.D. Arthur, Norman Cooksey and Ian Kirkconnell, members of Board which incidentally represents the largest township school area in Ontario. 

     The operation in a township of separate school boards, an elected public school board and an appointed high school board, creates difficulties, particularly in estimating the township's future capital expenditures for schools. It was felt that these

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estimates might be easier for a Board of Education, the formation of which is considered to be inevitable. School estimates presently prepared by the Provincial inspectors due to a shortage of administrative staff. With school attendance now over the maximum 3,000, the Board must now hire its own inspector who will assume the Provincial inspector's duties along with some of the Board's administrative functions. 

     The township's requests for capital borrowing on the quota system have frequently been refused by the Ontario Municipal Board and this could curtail the Board's provision of school facilities in the future. The present use of portable classrooms is due to the rapid population growth primarily. The use of the Board's legislative powers to secure funds depends on township council's rate of approval for subdivision plans and the degree of commercial and industrial assessment growth. Co-ordination and liaison between Council and the Board on new development is anticipated. 

     The Board is planning to expand school auxiliary services, kindergartens and auxiliary classes, and to introduce industrial arts, home economics and intermediate or senior schools to the township system. It was felt that the Ottawa and Nepean public elementary standards were similar. 

     The Board suggested that a large administrative unit, such as an extended Ottawa Public School Board, would be expensive to operate, would remove trustees further from the public and make it hard for them to have a comprehensive knowledge of the system. Such an extension would leave the portion of the township beyond the greenbelt without any public schools for present use or future development. Further, such a unit would be forced to become highly dependent on professional advisory staff. Opinion also opposed the establishment of a municipal arrangement which would pull the area in different directions from Ottawa, its common focal point and environment. It was 

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stated that the Board has no serious financial difficulties at present but that an appreciable demand for municipal services might result in a decrease in Board resources. 

     Increased industrial assessment in City View, Crystal Bay and Merivale has recently helped to adjust the previous assessment imbalance. Last year, area school mill rates ranged from 13 to 38 mills. While not struck yet, this year's rate could increase substantially for ratepayers in the rural areas of the township, all of whose children are now using township schools inside the greenbelt limits. Because of the expected increase, the new tax rate may prove to be more of an economic burden to the farmer than to the suburbanite. The grant structure which used to be a year behind the actual school operation is increasing and beginning to approach school operation costs, thereby stabilizing the financial aspect. 

     Other opinions expressed were as follows:

1) School trustees were apt to be more responsive in citizen contacts if they were elected rather than appointed. 

2) The Board's discretionary powers are wide improvision of facilities and staff; it functions independently with only minor provincial restrictions.

3) The Board experiences no difficulty in the competitive struggle with Ottawa for teachers; they have some schools which offer more benefits than Ottawa schools.

4) Additional council members would be useful; to divide the duties; the concept of a five person council is outmoded and rural in approach.