Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2000
ACSTA president back for 5th term
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
The longest-serving president in ACSTA history sees plenty of reasons to stay on in the position, and one is very personal.
"My family has a long association with Catholic education, and it's a subject that's very near and dear to my heart, so this is kind of a natural evolution for me," Lois Burke-Gaffney told WCR after being elected to a fifth consecutive one-year term as president of the province's Catholic school trustees on Nov. 18.
"We must let the next generation know of their responsibilities to themselves and to the community and to God.
"If we don't do that, we are not doing our job and I feel very passionately about that. It's a subject I address at every opportunity."
Burke-Gaffney was first elected a trustee in Calgary in 1992 and has served as ACSTA president since 1996.
She sees plenty of work to keep herself and the association busy in the year ahead.
A revised proposal for the expansion of separate school district boundaries to cover all of Alberta was to be presented to both public and separate boards at the annual general meeting of the Alberta School Boards Association last week.
An earlier proposal was rejected by ASBA members, but Burke-Gaffney says a few changes have been made, including a more specific dispute resolution process, which had been a concern for a number of public and Catholic boards.
"But the overriding caveat in the whole thing is the dispute resolution process will not involve constitutional rights, so there can't be a dispute over the fact that you're 'there'. There may some disputes over transportation or some administrative level thing, which is different."
There are also two routes a board could take in expanding its boundaries. Those boundaries could immediately become coterminous with one or more public boards, or the board could enter a series of "informational steps" including public meetings.
While there is still some concern, Burke-Gaffney says ACSTA has sought legal counsel on the issue and "we feel it's a solution we can live with."
Each board will submit its final approval or rejection of the proposal to ASBA, and then the matter will be handed over to Minister of Learning Lyle Oberg.
And while legislative changes will be required to acknowledge the right of Catholics in the newly expanded areas to vote and run for office as Catholic school trustees, Burke-Gaffney says it's not expected those changes will affect any existing constitutional rights.
"We have asked that all (Catholic) boards add to whatever comments they make that the agreement in support of this is not to be construed as a waiver of any kind of constitutional rights now or in the future."
Another pressing issue facing Catholic boards is the current restriction on building new schools.
"Our request to our membership is that (ACSTA) be consulted, particularly to make sure that there's no breach of covenant" in terms of sharing facilities with public school boards, Burke-Gaffney says.
"We will have to be very vigilant that we don't get lured into attractive offers of some kind of combination that taints the water a little bit."
Vigilance is required on the national stage too, she adds. Ontario's Bill 160 case, currently at the Supreme Court, addresses the right of separate school boards to levy and assess taxes.
"We'll have to watch that very closely and be prepared because it is a principle that's involved more than a financial thing."
But Burke-Gaffney also sees a role for ACSTA in terms of strengthening Catholic education across Canada.
"On a national level, I think we should be trying to persuade the Catholics in Manitoba to take another look at their own position. They should be more aggressive about trying to claim (rights). They had them and they could have reclaimed them, had they taken the initiative when the francophone question arose in Manitoba.
"I'm sure there's all kinds of reasons it wasn't considered but I think we should have a role in encouraging them to do something about that."
With a new provincial government in B.C., this could be an opportunity to encourage Catholics there to make their voice heard as well, she adds.
But equally important is the work to be done at home, Burke-Gaffney says.
"I think those involved directly in the schools are very much up to speed, but the general knowledge of the average Catholic with regard to the lifeline of Catholic education is pretty limited, and they have to understand that part of their heritage is affected."
The support of the Alberta bishops and parish priests is key, she adds.
"They are also as concerned as we are over the whole issue and so together with the help of the bishops and the parish priests and the whole community we must work together on that."