Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 24, 2000
School boards reject boundaries plan
Details must be ironed out before it goes ahead, they say
By By LELLA BLUMER
Special to WCR
Alberta's school boards have decided more talk is needed before they go ahead with a proposal to expand separate school district boundaries.
But that won't stop the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association (ACSTA) from pursuing the idea with Learning Minister Lyle Oberg, according to ACSTA president Lois Burke-Gaffney.
"This is just one more obstacle in a very long process," Burke-Gaffney says. She adds that the ACSTA remains "absolutely committed" to the proposal, which was jointly developed by the presidents of the three associations representing all public and separate school boards in the province.
The proposal recommended adjusting the boundaries of Alberta's 16 Catholic school jurisdictions to line up with those of the 42 public school districts. Catholic boards would be given the option of expanding their boundaries more easily, without being hampered by the current four-square-mile restriction.
But when members of the Alberta School Boards' Association, representing all boards in the province, voted April 14 on whether the proposal should be brought to Oberg for implementation, the idea was rejected by a count of 37-24.
Burke-Gaffney says she will meet with Oberg April 20 to see if he is willing to go ahead with the proposal, despite the result of the vote.
"We have been given a mandate by our member boards to take the proposal to the minister.
"He may not want to act on it, but I think we need to hear that directly from him."
Depending on Oberg's response, she added, ACSTA may present him with the same proposal that was rejected by ASBA, or may make some alterations to the proposal.
If the minister indicates he is not willing to proceed without the support of all school boards, "then we will sit down with our member boards and discuss it again," Burke-Gaffney says, although she is concerned about delaying the process any further.
The plan was to have the proposed changes to the School Act approved during the spring session of the legislature. But Burke-Gaffney points out that legislative changes may not be needed to accomplish what the proposal sets out to do.
"Our position when we started all this is that the minister has the power to add or take land away from any jurisdiction. He's always had that power, and the precedent is there.
"Whether he will want to do that (unilaterally) or not is up to him."
Fred Calkins, chair of the St. Thomas Aquinas school division south of Edmonton, says continued dialogue with public boards is "the only way to go" in order to reach an amicable solution to the stalemate.
He adds he was not surprised by the voting results.
"After meeting with our public board colleagues, we could see the vote was not going to be in our favour because they had too many reservations."
In fact, the day before the ASBA vote, the Public School Boards' Association of Alberta soundly rejected the proposal. With 21 of the province's 42 public boards as its members, the PSBAA action virtually sealed the proposal's fate, Burke-Gaffney says.
But support for the proposal was not unanimous among ACSTA member boards either.
Elk Island Catholic, which includes Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan and Camrose, voted against the ASBA resolution, although the board supports the proposal in principle.
"The terms and conditions, especially related to staffing and facilities, had to be clarified before we could support the resolution," says board chair Ken Lesniak.
Lesniak says the result of the ASBA vote "clearly indicates that boards across the province feel that the implications of the proposal to change the format of how separate school boards are formed must be dialogued, thought out and discussed further. And Elk Island Catholic concurs with that.
"Before you take any action, you need to know what the implications are" he adds, pointing out that a major implication of the proposal is the disenfranchisement of separate school electors across the province.
Lesniak says that although the resolution was defeated, ASBA member boards have indicated they are willing to continue discussing the issue.
"Our board is very pleased that the process will continue, so that eventually we are able to realize the dream of being able to provide Catholic education across the province in a less onerous way."