Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 24, 2002
Volatile stats hobble schooling
There can be little question about who holds the main responsibility for Edmonton Catholic Schools' decision to consider closing three schools next fall - the provincial government and its magical mystery school funding formulas.
The province's "utilization rate" for Edmonton Catholic Schools fell from 76 to 69 per cent of capacity this year, not because the Catholic school system has a lower enrollment, but because Alberta Learning changed its funding formulas. Because of this bureaucratic wizardry, several school caretakers lost their jobs and the school board is considering closing Our Lady of Peace, St. Patrick and St. Jerome schools.
Even though Catholic education is growing in rural Alberta, it is being squeezed in Edmonton. And the pressure is coming from a provincial government that refuses to accept there is value in maintaining small schools to serve established neighbourhoods. All it knows are its utilization rates that bounce around like a yo-yo on the end of a string because the province keeps changing the rules of the game.
Of course, the education of the young is not a game. It is the place for the formation of the future of society. But to the bureaucratic mind, students are just numbers - numbers that ought to be squished this way and that until the utilization rate strikes a sense of harmony and balance in the bureaucratic "heart."
School trustees in Alberta's brave new world are left in a dilemma: They have no power to do good, only to choose between the lesser of two evils. They may choose to keep the three existing schools open, thus jeopardizing the current operations as well as possibilities for new schools in new neighbourhoods.
Or they can close the schools and hope against hope that all current and future students who would have attended those schools go to other Catholic schools further away from their homes.
Of course, in real life that doesn't happen. Many parents will simply opt to send their children to the public school around the corner rather than to the Catholic school a mile away. To be sure, this may show a lack of commitment by the parents to the Catholic education of their children. But in many cases, it represents the realities of life where both parents work, or where the family has only one car and the school bus is inconvenient, or where no parents work.
Indeed, we ought to have a bias for smaller schools where students can get more individual attention and the school can form something of a real community. Too much of our thinking dates back to the 1960s and '70s when great high school factories of 1,000 students and more were built to provide students with the broadest range of options. Few people objected to this big-is-beautiful philosophy and foresaw how many students would just get lost in the mass of humanity that surrounded them.
We have high expectations for Catholic schools. We like to believe that they matter to the faith development of their students. And if that is the case, then closing schools - or taking steps that would prevent the opening of new schools - is something that could compromise the eternal salvation of students left without Catholic schools.
Some might see this as overly simplistic, but it is only simplistic if Catholic schools don't make a difference. If that's the case, we should give up the whole charade. But if it's not the case and attending a Catholic school is transformative for many - or even some - students then those politicians and bureaucrats who would deny students a real opportunity for a Catholic education bear a weighty burden.
It's why we must fight the bureaucratic raz-a-ma-taz about utilization rates that would deny some children a Catholic education.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.