Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 5, 2001
Bureaucracy trumps compassion
The Edmonton Catholic school board has chosen to do the Alberta government's dirty work for it. And in doing so, it has created a rift in the Catholic community that will not be easy to repair.
The board's Feb. 13 decision to summarily expel Vegreville's two Catholic schools from the district has been justified as a necessary step for a scheme to proceed that would improve access to Catholic education across Alberta. Yet there is no assurance that this plan will go ahead or, even if it does, that many Catholic Albertans will benefit from it.
The marriage of Edmonton's and Vegreville's Catholic school districts - two of the oldest Catholic districts in the province - took place less than four years ago. At first glance, it appeared to be an odd marriage, one between an elephant and a mouse.
But this marriage was necessitated by the provincial government's demand that the number of Catholic school districts be reduced from 50 to 16. The government eventually let the boards themselves decide how they were going to get down to that magic number. Vegreville's obvious choice was to amalgamate with what is now the Elk Island Catholic District that includes Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park and Camrose. For whatever reason, that did not pan out and Vegreville instead joined with Edmonton.
Both parties were apparently happy with the arrangement until a grand scheme emerged that would have all Catholic districts in Alberta expand to cover the entire province. The goal was to overcome the quaint and divisive arrangement by which new Catholic districts in rural areas were formed on four-by-four squares by a vote of Catholic residents of the area. Formation of new districts on this basis invariably pitted neighbour against neighbour, Catholic against Catholic.
Regardless of the merits of this new plan (the merits of which have been debated earlier in the WCR), the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association chose to forge ahead with it.
The proposed reform required a map (yet to be made public) by which the current 16 districts would cover the province and have boundaries coterminous with the 40 non-Catholic districts. The rub in the plan was that Vegreville would seemingly be forced to join the Elk Island district - the one it had rejected joining four years ago.
How to handle this anomaly? Given the fact that the provincial government has not approved the plan and that there is significant opposition from non-Catholic boards, the most reasonable course of action at this time would have been to do nothing. If the minister of learning decides to approve the plan, let him decide whether the Vegreville-Edmonton marriage can continue as an anomaly or whether Vegreville must be forced to join Elk Island. There is no need for the Catholic boards to now attempt to force through all the details of a plan that may never be implemented.
The Edmonton Catholic board chose not to go that direction. Instead it chose to take a course of action that can only be perceived as a powerful city school board ignoring the desires of small town schools. It may be true, but is at this point secondary, that no one will lose a job or pension income because of this divorce.
Rather, it is entirely predictable and justifiable that Vegreville Catholics and their trustee react angrily against this move. The divorce is taking place against their will, with no consultation and little justification. For all the world, it looks like a case of bureaucratic thinking bereft of compassion.
It is a matter of concern that this should happen in Catholic education. The neat bureaucratic solution may well have to win out in the end. But Catholic education should be one place where compassion for minorities in difficult situations should be given priority. Instead, the Edmonton Catholic board, emboldened by its own vision of what is right, has made the Catholics of Vegreville feel like victims of an unjust process.
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