Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2000
Catholic districts spread their wings
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Alberta's Catholic and public school boards are planning to redraw the province's educational map to make Catholic education available to students across Alberta.
A proposal from the presidents of the associations representing Alberta's public and Catholic school boards March 10 would extend the boundaries of 16 Catholic school districts to cover most of the province.
"It's just a tremendous breakthrough for Catholics in this province," said Lois Burke-Gaffney, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association. "It's an opportunity to deliver education to all our children across the province just like our public board neighbours can."
The proposal, already endorsed in principle by Learning Minister Lyle Oberg, will give every parent in Alberta the chance to choose whether to belong to a Catholic or a public district, because every region will be served by both systems.
The proposal will do away with the old and controversial 4X4 system, which allows Catholic electors to set up a Catholic district if they prove they are a religious minority within a territory four miles long by four miles wide.
The formula has proven divisive because Catholic electors in those territories can vote for their own school jurisdiction regardless of the wishes of the public school board.
"The proposal avoids the whole process of 4x4, which is very divisive within communities and within families and is very disruptive and some communities never recover from it," Burke-Gaffney said.
"If this problem is ever going to be resolved, it has to be resolved now because we will never, ever have an opportunity like this," she said.
Under the proposal, the boundaries of a Catholic jurisdiction would be "co-terminous" with the boundaries of one or more public jurisdictions. That means the territory covered by 42 public school jurisdictions would also be covered by 16 Catholic school jurisdictions.
It also means Alberta's Catholics could choose to pay their taxes and elect trustees in either the public jurisdiction or the Catholic jurisdiction.
"This proposal marks the beginning of a new partnership between Alberta's Catholic and public schools, said Don Fleming, president of the Public School Boards' Association of Alberta. "It's a clear demonstration of our commitment to work together for the benefit of the children and the communities we serve."
The biggest effect of the plan may be felt in rural Alberta where public school boards could lose students and the funding that comes with them to the newly extended Catholic jurisdictions, something which is already happening under the 4x4 system.
All Catholic schools districts in the province already have already endorsed the plan, said Burke-Gaffney, whose association has been working for a solution to the 4x4 problem for at least 10 years.
Catholic boards are currently discussing with their neighbours their new boundaries. ACSTA expects to have information on the new boundaries of each district by March 24.
If the public boards accept the proposal, St. Albert would see the biggest change, at least a change in name. Currently, the Catholic district in St. Albert is public. Under the proposal, it would become a separate school district and the St. Albert Protestant school district would become public.
"The opportunity has been given to them to swap names," Burke-Gaffney pointed out. "At the present time that's all that would involved, simply a name change."
If the name change is approved, St. Albert Catholic would be entitled to extend its boundaries like the rest of the province's Catholic boards.
The Northlands school division is governed by its own act so it would be exempted from the change. St. Paul would remain under a joint public and Catholic board.
Burke-Gaffney expects to have the proposal approved and signed by mid-April. Oberg would like to see the necessary changes to the School Act introduced during this session of the legislature.