Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
November 26, 2001
ACSTA buoyed by School Act changes
Amendments allow for easier expansion of separate districts
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — Changes to Alberta's School Act dominated discussion at the annual general meeting of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association, held Nov. 16-18 in Edmonton.
Bill 16, which passed third reading in the legislature on Nov. 14, provides, among other things, alternatives for forming and expanding the boundaries of separate school districts - something the ACSTA has been working toward for years.
And although past ACSTA president Lois Burke-Gaffney cautioned delegates that much work remains to be done on the regulations, there was little mistaking the sense of accomplishment pervading the meeting.
After voicing its concerns over Bill 16 when it was introduced in the legislature last spring, ACSTA lobbied over the summer for a number of amendments to the bill, particularly in sections which gave Catholics the choice of supporting either the public or separate school district.
When Bill 16 was reintroduced last week, those sections had been removed.
Burke-Gaffney credited Learning Minister Lyle Oberg for his part in addressing ACSTA concerns with the original bill.
"Without this minister, Bill 16 would not have passed. We owe him a great deal because we were successful," she told delegates.
"The minister has been faithful to every promise he made to us."
Under the new School Act, the 100-year-old process of forming separate school districts remains unchanged.
While that process ensures that members of the minority faith can form a separate school district, Catholic school supporters have found it cumbersome and outdated, particularly as it restricts the size of a separate school district to an area four miles square (4x4).
It has also been blamed for causing conflict in some communities because only members of the minority faith were involved in deciding whether to form a separate school district.
But the new act provides an alternative to that formation process by allowing the minister to expand the boundaries of a separate school district to reflect the service area of the district, contingent on agreement by public and separate boards in the area.
The proposed regulations also put in writing the current practice of "rolling up" 4x4s so that a number of formations could be voted on at a single meeting.
The new act emphasizes the necessity of consultation between public and separate school boards as the basis for any expansion of boundaries.
The end result is that Catholics who now live outside a separate school district, but wish to access Catholic education, are not bound to the "4x4" process.
In addressing delegates to the ACSTA annual general meeting on Nov. 17, Oberg called the act a "huge step forward."
"I believe that we have accomplished something that has taken 100 years to do. I think it's something that is a very good system and I think it's something that will serve us well."
The focus on communication between public and separate school boards is the most positive aspect of the new processes, he told trustees, adding that his goal was to find a way to expand the boundaries of separate school districts with minimal conflict.
"Catholic school districts are going to expand and that's good, but now we have the ability to do that without ripping out the heart of the community."
Burke-Gaffney told the WCR following Oberg's address that Catholics have been given "a great gift." But, she added, the provisions in the new school act need to be acted on by boards.
The new school act also includes provisions for franco-phone Catholic school boards.
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