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Parent-based decision making key to Christian schools

Written on August 24th, 2007

‘We are a model of efficiency and effectiveness’

Similar to when parents in Ontario received a tax credit towards independent school tuition, the new Conservative plan to fund all faith-based schools shows possible growth and expansion on the horizon, says Harry Meester.

Meester, director of recruitment and advancement at Hamilton District Christian High School (HDCHS) in Ancaster, says the tax credit was good because parents were still in control of the school. The money went directly to parents who paid the tuition to their child’s independent school.

The provincial Conservatives plan to invite faith-based schools into the public system if elected this fall.

“This is a major shift,” says Meester. “We saw the flow to parents as being ideal, because as parental schools that was really very good.”

Meester says the tax credit had a heavy impact on the school. In 2001, the Conservative provincial finance minister introduced a tax credit for parents with children at independent schools. When the Liberals took office in 2003 the government retroactively repealed the tax credit.

“If money were to flow directly from local school boards we wonder what that would actually mean for us,” he says.

“Specifically, our concern would be about hiring and staffing and to what degree we’d be able to retain our freedom in having people who share our vision. That’s really significant to us.”

In many Christian schools like HDCHS parents are elected onto the school board, which makes decisions for the school. This type of governing system keeps people who care about the school engaged and involved in decision-making processes.

“Not a lot of change is necessary, we run quite a tight ship and I think that we are a model of efficiency and effectiveness,” says Meester of the current governing structure.

HDCHS is the largest Christian high school in Ontario with 530 students. In 2001, the school reached its capacity with 601 students and started a long-range planning committee for an expansion.

During the years of the tax credit Meester says the school projected a 50 per cent growth within five years. The school, situated on 20 acres, planned a building expansion that would service 750 students and then 900 students. HDCHS identified the program possibilities for students and looked to add such areas as a performing arts centre and an automotive shop.

But student growth in 2003 declined to 574. Meester says the tax credit withdrawal affected new enrolments the most, while other factors including a tuition increase and changing demographics also came into play.

If the potential funding is introduced for faith-based schools Meester says they would again anticipate rapid growth, which they would need to manage well.

“Yes, we’ve been here before,” he says with a laugh. Though there would be a need for updating the school’s previous expansion plans, they might come off the shelf if the school receives funds.

“The barrier to growth for a lot of families is financial,” says Meester. “There are many people who would love to send their kids to Christian schools if it was financially possible to do that and obviously our enrolment would increase, and we would need to be prepared for that. And that’s true not only for us but for all Christian schools.”