Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 9, 2006
Calgary schools renounce casino fundraising
Edmonton Catholic takes second look at its involvement
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"Our district has always said that using dollars from casinos and casino revenue is not an ideal method of fundraising.
- Lori Nagy
"We are looking at this as a good opportunity to sit down and have a discussion with Archbishop Thomas Collins to decide if we want to stay where we are with our fundraising initiatives (using casino revenue as fundraising) or if we need to go in a different direction," Lori Nagy, spokeswoman for the school district, said Oct. 2.
Although the archbishop is currently in Rome, through an exchange of emails he and the school board agreed to discuss the issue sometime in November, Nagy said.
Even though Collins has never called for an outright ban on casinos and bingos, he has called raising money for schools through gambling immoral.
Nagy believes the majority of the school division's 84 schools use casinos to raise funds for things such as playgrounds, library resources, computers, field trips and phys-ed equipment.
"We do believe every year our schools receive about $3 million in funding from casino revenue, Nagy said. "The loss of $3 million in revenue would be a huge concern, especially for our smaller schools."
Nagy said casino fundraising is popular because a school can raise up to $40,000 on a single weekend working at a casino.
Bishop Fred Henry
"However, our district has always said that using dollars from casinos and casino revenue is not an ideal method of fundraising. And we would love to be able to replace that with something that would yield similar results. So it is a difficult issue, that's for sure."
The Sept. 27 announcement banning gambling activities in Calgary came after months of disagreement between Henry and the school board. The board had said forcing schools to stop using casinos to raise funds would mean the demise of some programs that depend on such funding.
Parent councils at 59 of 98 Catholic schools raised more than $2 million through casinos and bingos last year to fund projects such as playgrounds, upgraded computers, field trips and support for sports and arts programs.
But Henry, who has already made all his parishes stop relying on casinos, termed the continued use of bingos and casinos by Catholic schools as "morally problematic" and called on the board to ban the practice.
When the board refused, the bishop threatened to blacklist all the schools that continued to fundraise through gambling. He even skipped the annual school year opening liturgy in protest.
"It doesn't serve any purpose to be at odds with our bishop."
- Cathie Williams
Henry has said he finds it "unacceptable" for a school district with an annual budget of $348 million to rely on $2 million from bingo and casino revenues.
"I'm quite sure that they can find all kinds of ways to save $2 million (and stop engaging in this activity) that takes advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in our society," Henry told the WCR in late June.
After several discussions since the beginning of September, the board and Henry were finally able to come to what board chair Cathie Williams termed a "compromise."
"It doesn't serve any purpose to be at odds with our bishop," she said. "We need to have our parish priests at the schools; we need to work in cooperation with the bishop and he was just adamant that he was not going to change his stance.
"We didn't want to see any of our schools in a position where they would be blacklisted. It's not fair to the students and it's not fair to the parent community."
Under the deal, Calgary Catholic will phase out the use of casinos and bingos as fundraising sources for its 98 schools. Parent councils with existing agreements to take part in casinos will be able to complete those commitments but no new applications will be allowed.
The district is setting up a task force to explore alternative sources of revenues.
A target date for all schools to eliminate bingos and casinos will be determined in the spring of 2007 following consultation with school councils.
"There is no doubt that finding alternative sources of funding will be a major challenge for our school communities," Williams said. "Nevertheless, this decision is in the interest of a single response to what we all agree are the excesses of institutionalized gambling."
Henry was in Rome Oct. 2 and could not be reached for comment.
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