Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 2, 2000
Joint school-grocery store plan draws flak from unions
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Edmonton's Catholic school board has given the go-ahead to proceed with plans to build a new Catholic high school in the west end.
But even before the project has received government approval, it is sparking debate.
The school would be a joint undertaking by the Catholic school division and Sobeys West Inc. Sobeys would lease part of the building from the school division to operate an IGA store.
That makes it a privately-built school, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees in a recent news release, and that's a serious concern.
Doug Luellman, president of CUPE Local 474, which represents custodial staff in Edmonton's public schools, points to an increase in maintenance and utility costs, concerns about student safety, and the basic issue of democracy.
"Partnerships are great to enter into." Luellman says. "But if a corporation wants to make a contribution to public education, they should put it into a central fund and dispense it among all schools."
Letting a corporation direct where a facility is built means that a community's potential financial contribution to the corporation is the driving force, rather than student needs, he adds.
In response, Edmonton Catholic Schools chair Debbie Engel issued a statement saying the board "will consider no partnerships, nor will we sign any agreements unless we can be assured of keeping our priorities where they belong.
"We are confident that the proposed partnership with Sobeys West Inc. in no way threatens the integrity of our mission."
Initial plans call for a joint facility at the corner of 69th Avenue and 178th Street, next to the Jamie Platz YMCA and immediately north of the Marketplace at Callingwood. The school would occupy approximately 100,000 square feet and accommodate 900 to 1,000 students.
Sobeys will prepay $3.2 million to lease another 45,000 square feet under a 25-year lease.
Each facility would have a separate entrance and separate parking.
The board plans to apply for the balance of the construction costs under Alberta Learning's Innovation Fund, as soon as approval from the city is received. The public would then have an opportunity for input. The school could open in September 2002 or 2003.
Patti Clancy-Novosel, president of the Edmonton Catholic local of the Alberta Teachers' Association, says ATA policy expresses concern whenever schools align themselves with private institutions.
"There are examples in the U.S. where learning materials, for example, have come from institutions."
There is also a more subtle influence that can be exerted because of proximity, she adds. "For example, I raised the question of whether staff at the school would think twice about putting out a manger scene in front of the school at Christmas time because it might offend shoppers."
But Clancy-Novosel says she is confident the board will address those concerns. "I know that the board is doing this in the best interest of the children.
"I trust our board . . . but it will continue to be a concern."
On the other hand, she adds, being next door to a secular institution presents an opportunity for the school to exert a positive influence on the store.
Both Clancy-Novosel and Luellman agree the basic issue is underfunding of education.
Because Edmonton Catholic Schools has an overall vacancy rate above the limit set by Alberta Learning, the division has been unable to qualify for funding to build new schools in overcrowded areas.
Clancy-Novosel says that's unfair to parents and students in high-growth areas.
"The government is punishing Edmonton Catholic because the district has made a commitment to its moral and social responsibility to schools that are small, especially in the inner city."