Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 3, 2000
St. Albert schools ready to go public
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Alberta's only public Catholic school jurisdiction has taken its first step toward becoming separate.
After lengthy debate, trustees from the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division passed a resolution March 23 to make the switch from a public to a separate school division. But two conditions need to be met first, says board chair Jody Hunt.
"First of all, there is another partner in this," she says, referring to the St. Albert Protestant separate school board.
"They have to agree to the switch, and they have their own process to go through in terms of getting input from their community."
Second, Hunt says, a proposal to expand the boundaries of Catholic school jurisdictions across the province, which is currently being reviewed by both public and Catholic school boards, must be approved.
The so-called Presidents' Proposal, brought forward by the presidents of both the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association and the Alberta School Boards Association, is the impetus for Greater St. Albert's decision, Hunt explains.
If the division were to retain its public designation, it would be unable to participate in the boundary expansion, according to the proposal.
The Presidents' Proposal calls for the boundaries of Alberta's 16 Catholic school districts to be expanded to cover most of the province.
More is involved than a simple name change. Greater St. Albert's unique status as a public Catholic district is rooted in history, and reflects the region's close ties to the missionaries who worked among the first settlers and native inhabitants.
The first school district established in the area was Catholic, formed in 1864 when the Grey Nuns opened a combination orphanage, hospital and school. Because Catholics were the majority in the area at the time, they formed a public school district, while members of the Protestant minority formed a separate school district.
In 1995, the St. Albert Catholic district regionalized with two other public Catholic boards in the area: Thibault, founded in the late 1800s and named for Father Thibault who established a mission and school near Morinville, and Legal, established in 1907.
The resulting regional division was the last remaining public jurisdiction among the 16 current Catholic school jurisdictions.
It is also one of the largest Catholic school jurisdictions in the province, serving 7,600 students and operating 16 schools, as well as St. Gabriel cyber high school and two outreach programs operated jointly with other area boards.
Hunt admits the board struggled with the decision to break with its long history as a public board. But she says a change in the district's status won't change the past.
"Our history will always be there. Nothing will ever change that.
"You have to celebrate your history but at some point in time you need to look at who you are as a community, and what's important is not whether you're public or separate. What's probably most important is to be who we are and that's Catholic, and do what we're here to do, and that is to provide a Catholic education to all the students who want it."
Dr. Morag Pansegrau, chair of St. Albert Protestant Schools, says the question of trading places with the Catholic board has come up in the past, but "there didn't seem to be a will to switch."
Now that the Catholic board has taken the first step, Pansegrau says, her board will look at the issue again. The board is holding a town hall meeting on April 3 to gather public input.
"We have a history of consulting with our public and our board felt very strongly we couldn't make a decision without a chance for those involved in our schools to have their views heard," Pansegrau says.
The public will be asked for input not only on whether the separate and public boards should switch designations, but also on the proposal to extend Catholic school district boundaries, which Pansegrau calls "a very significant issue for publicly-funded education."
If the proposal is approved, and both St. Albert boards agree, the boundaries of the current separate board will be expanded to correspond with those of Greater St. Albert Catholic.
The Protestant school board will make its decision on April 12, and bring that decision to a special meeting of all school boards on April 14.
Meanwhile, the ACSTA is expected to make a final decision on the Presidents' Proposal at a March 31 meeting.