February 21, 2011

In the past few months we have read, with great interest, several articles on why the Edmonton Catholic School District should stop using casinos as a way to raise necessary funds for the District's 87 schools.

In the Feb. 7 WCR, Dr. Lucy Miller, superintendent of Calgary Catholic Schools, states "the use of casinos in the Catholic School District is now a thing of the past." Calgary Catholic School Board ended its reliance upon casino funding in May 2010, more than three years after the bishop of Calgary directed that reliance on casino funding should end.

Last year, the Calgary Catholic Education Foundation was established with the goal of replacing the lost casino funding. The foundation's goal is to raise $2 million a year over the next five years. Thus far, it appears the foundation has a combined donation, of $1 million per year for the next three years from two prominent Calgary families. The foundation's other identified method of raising funds is through Sunday church collections.

The Calgary school district's website underscores the obvious funding urgency when it states "Our goal is to raise an additional $7 million which will allow our excellent programs to succeed for the foreseeable future."

Raising the $7 million to ensure program sustainability may prove exceedingly difficult, yet Miller professes that "we are stronger than ever."

There seems to be an obvious disconnect here. It is unlikely that the full impact of this recent change in funding can be appreciated at this time. The foundation has only just started supplementing the school board's funding and the sustainability of its plan is uncertain.

Therefore, making bold statements about the strength of Catholic education in Calgary seems either premature or overly optimistic.

In Edmonton, 99 per cent of the Catholic schools rely on casino funding, generating $6 million every 18 months, not taking into consideration the sizeable matching grants that are available for casino funds.

In contrast, only 30 per cent of the Calgary district's 106 schools used casino revenues as a fundraising method. Over a 10-year period, this represents $40 million in revenue for Edmonton schools.

If $7 million seems like a massive sum for Calgary to raise in order to maintain existing program levels, then Edmonton's need to raise about $20 million in the same time period may be even more challenging, given that many more schools in Edmonton rely on casino funding.


Attempting to secure wealthy donors to temporarily bolster the system may be daunting for districts that do not have the large pool of corporations and private family foundations to draw on.

So how is this lost casino funding to be replaced? Should parents and the Catholic community be expected to shoulder this immense financial burden?

In making his decision, Archbishop Richard Smith referred to a 12-year-old pastoral letter entitled The False Eden of Gambling. The letter cites no research yet makes broad statements about addictions.

On Oct. 5, the archbishop stated that the implementation of the policy would be delayed. Archbishop Smith seemed genuinely surprised that many parents were upset about this potential loss of critical revenue.

While parents appealed for a delay in the implementation of this policy until sustainable replacement funding was in place, in a Jan. 29, 2011 Edmonton Journal article, the archdiocese was quoted as saying that it "'won't wait forever' for Catholic schools to ditch casinos." This stance would seem to undermine hopes for a constructive discussion with Archbishop Smith.


Letters from many Catholic school parent associations were sent out in the spring of 2010 to the archbishop requesting an open dialogue to discuss the concerns of parents. Almost one year later, this has still not happened.

We are willing to be a part of a process to advocate for different funding options, but it is irresponsible, and likely risks our children's education, to forgo casino funding without a viable sustainable plan in place.

In our own neighbourhood in Edmonton, our school shares a field with the local public school. In a few short years, without the help of casino fundraising, this public school will have vastly more resources than our Catholic school.

Our schools will become the poor cousins to the public schools. Families that toil in their fundraising efforts to help keep the Catholic system above water may come to believe that the grass is truly greener on the other side of the educational fence.

(Dr. Gilchrist and Mr. Stocco are parents of a child in the Edmonton Catholic School District. Gilchrist is also a room representative on student council at her daughter's school).