Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 22, 2001
Calgary trustees face complex issues
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — Veteran Calgary school board trustee Linda Blasetti plans to spend the next three years working hard to involve more ratepayers in the province's largest Catholic school district.
Blasetti, who was re-elected on Oct. 15 and chaired the board of trustees during the last term of office, says 70 per cent of the Catholic community in Calgary don't have children in school. Yet they need to be aware of what is happening as "owners" of the school system.
"We need to engage 100 per cent of our Catholic community," she said during an interview at her home on election night. Blasetti, who represents Wards 1, 2 and Cochrane, has served on the of Calgary Catholic school board for 12 of the past 15 years.
The district has about 44,000 students in 91 schools and a budget of more than $278 million.
The board's vice-chair, Lois Burke-Gaffney, also retained her Wards 6 and 8 seat. But three fresh faces were elected.
Margaret Belcourt, a retired school teacher, defeated incumbent Lynn Leslie who placed third in Wards 4 and 7.
Elsewhere, Gerald Heighes, a special needs support worker, won in Wards 9 and 10 and homemaker Catherine Williams was elected in a narrow race in Wards 11 and 12.
Trustees Linda Wellman and Maureen Emond were acclaimed.
Blasetti, 47, said the new board will be off to a quick start facing a complex variety of issues. "We can't rest very many days following the election."
At the top of the agenda is monitoring the provincial government as it finishes Bill 16, amendments to the School Act which deal with charter schools, school district boundaries and francophone schools. "Our first order of the day will be to protect and safeguard Catholic education."
Funding will also be a major issue. Without more dollars, the school district's reserve fund will soon be used up with a projected $4.9 million deficit by the end of the 2001-02 fiscal year.
Compounding that impending debt situation will be a new round of teacher negotiations. Having just signed a retroactive one-year agreement with its teachers in August, the board returned to bargaining on Oct. 12 to work on a new contract.
"Balancing the needs of students with the salary demands of our various assorted groups will be a pressure point for some time to come," Blasetti said.
Salaries account for 75 per cent of the budget. That means there's not much room to manoeuvre with 25 per cent, she said. "That room is class room."
The mood dominating negotiations is also a factor. New trustee Belcourt, an active ATA member before retiring, says a lot of bad feelings linger from labour disputes during the past few years. Belcourt hopes relationships between trustees and teachers can be "more collegial."
Teacher shortages also loom on the horizon, says Blasetti. As more teachers take advantage of early retirement options, it will be a growing challenge to retain and recruit teachers in the years to come, she said.
Meanwhile Blasetti worries about the lack of involvement by Catholics in the system. School board meetings are poorly attended by the public. Some parishioners criticized trustees for handing out election material outside churches before and after Sunday Mass - even though it was done with the bishop's approval. Yet other Catholic ratepayers complained during the election that the school board does not listen to their concerns.
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