Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 19, 2001
Edmonton boots out Vegreville
Trustees say move will help make Catholic education available across Alberta
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — An ongoing plan to make Catholic education accessible throughout the province has left Vegreville's Catholic school community in a state of flux — again.
Edmonton's Catholic school board passed a resolution Feb. 12, asking the minister of learning to redraw its boundaries, making the Edmonton Catholic district coterminous with the Edmonton public district. If the minister approves, Vegreville will no longer be a ward of the Edmonton Catholic Regional Division No. 40.
Exactly where the community will end up is not yet clear. Harold Mori, assistant principal at St. Martin School in Vegreville, says he feels "like we are pawns in a chess game."
"We've spent the last few years becoming a cohesive unit, and it's sad to see this happening."
Vegreville and Edmonton joined together as a regional division in 1997, after pressure from then-Education Minister Gary Mar led Catholic school districts across the province to cut their numbers from more than 50 to 16.
That union came after years of unsuccessful negotiation between Vegreville and other Catholic boards in the area.
Although Vegreville was initially hesitant about joining with a large urban board, Mori says, "Edmonton has been very accommodating. It wasn't a case of we're Vegreville and they're Edmonton - we were all one district."
Ed Wieclaw, Vegre-ville's sole trustee on the board, says he has received "innumerable" phone calls and visits from staff and parents upset about facing another period of instability during negotiations with yet another school district.
"Any time you have a dedicated, professional staff that is injured, there is suffering. It can't be helped.
"They've had their legs kicked out from under them and now they have to regroup and adjust themselves again. Sure, they're professional, they can rebound, but it won't be done overnight."
Trustee Ron Patsula, who introduced the motion to the board, said the "overwhelming motivation in making this motion is to make Catholic education accessible to all Catholic Albertans."
Coterminous boundaries are more likely to be accepted by Minister Lyle Oberg than anomalies such as an Edmonton-Vegreville union, Patsula says. And acceptance by the minister is key to forwarding the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association plan for extending Catholic school district boundaries across the province.
"There is a window of opportunity, and for the good of Catholic education we have to take it."
ACSTA President Lois Burke-Gaffney says she received a letter from Oberg Feb. 13 indicating that he approved ACSTA's "map" in principle, contingent upon agreement by all school boards in the province on the process used to arrive at that picture. The Alberta School Boards Association has set a deadline of Feb. 15 for boards to declare their support or lack of support for the process.
Burke-Gaffney says she was "delighted" by the minister's response. "It's been a very long process."
But Wieclaw says Edmonton's decision is "playing into the hands of powers that should not be influencing Catholic education.
"The board could have presented the status quo to ACSTA, and if the minister decided it couldn't be done, it would be his decision." Wieclaw voiced his frustration after the Feb. 12 board meeting, at which the resolution passed by a vote of 5-2.
"How many times does Vegreville have to be beat up 'for the good of Catholic education'?
"If you're a teacher in that district, tomorrow morning you'll be in total limbo; you won't know what could happen. How is Vegreville going to plan staffing for next year? How are we going to plan budgets? How are you going to plan anything knowing the divorce decree could come from the minister and you don't know who your new partner will be?"
Wieclaw says he is unsure what the next step in the process will be.
Elk Island CSRD chair Ken Lesniak says that bringing Vegreville into that regional division, to join with Ft. Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park, is "doable," but as of the Feb. 12 board meeting, no one had contacted the board.
There is also the question of what legal hurdles need to be cleared so the regionalization agreement between Edmonton and Vegreville can be undone. Wieclaw says his understanding was that a regional division could only be split if one of the boards who originally entered into the agreement held a plebiscite. That course of action has not been undertaken.
"There are legal implications we don't know about yet," agreed trustee Brian Mitchell in speaking against the motion.
But a more important consideration is the relationship between the two communities, he added.
"We took them in as part of our family. We made a commitment to Vegreville, and it's important to follow through on that commitment."
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