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Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association shoots down idea to merge Catholic and public schools

A hallway at St. Catherine Catholic School in Edmonton.
A hallway at St. Catherine Catholic School in Edmonton. Kendra Slugoski/Global News

On the heels of influential figures recently suggesting public school boards should begin offering Catholic programming in Alberta, or potentially even that the province should merge its public and Catholic school boards into one publicly funded system, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) issued a editorial Tuesday in defence of the status quo.

“It is an oversimplification to say that amalgamating Catholic and public schools would lead to substantial savings of taxpayer money,” ACSTA President Adriana LaGrange said. “The only way to save taxpayer money would be if all 175,000 students simply stop having access to education altogether.”

In February, Michael Janz — former chair of the Edmonton Public School Board — wrote a blog post in which he said he believes Catholic faith programs should be offered in public schools and that he planned to seek approval from the province to do exactly that.

READ MORE: Edmonton Public School Board chair seeks provincial approval to offer Catholic programs

Should Edmonton public schools be able to offer Catholic programming?
Should Edmonton public schools be able to offer Catholic programming?

WATCH ABOVE: On Feb. 7, 2017, Tom Vernon filed this report after the chair of Edmonton Public Schools said he was asking if the Edmonton Catholic School District should have a monopoly on offering Catholic programming to students.

“I informally asked the question when I was first elected trustee in 2010,” Janz wrote,”and was told that previous governments and ministers would not permit public school boards to create Catholic programs, but puzzlingly they have allowed Catholic districts to offer duplicate programs that are also offered by public and Francophone school boards.”

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“At this time, when we’re in a provincial education curriculum review, when people are thinking about the future of our schools and we’re all putting together our capital plans for the upcoming year, I think it’s an interesting time to ask, ‘well, let’s have a conversation about choices we can offer within the public system.’”

Last month, David King — who served as Alberta’s education minister from 1979 to 1986 —launched a campaign proposing the public and Catholic school systems merge, citing cost savings.

“Catholic Education has been operating in Alberta since the 1840s and has held a longstanding, distinct role in Alberta’s public education system for all of these years,” LaGrange said Tuesday. “It is enshrined in the Constitution of Canada, Section 93, solidified in the Alberta Act 1905 and further supported by the Alberta School Act.”

READ MORE: Edmonton public schools should not offer Catholic programming: poll

“There has been no study that has indicated any money would be saved by eliminating Catholic Schools: the same number of students, educated by the same number of staff, driven to school by the same number of busses, maintained in the same number of schools (which the province is currently short of) would be needed,” she added.

“In fact, studies done on the amalgamation of municipalities, health authorities, and schools in other provinces have seen the administration cost increase considerably due to the effects of amalgamation.”

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LaGrange added that many Catholic school boards already do work together with public school boards to find cost savings through shared busing and joint-use agreements.

The ACSTA president also suggested the Catholic school system offers a “unique partnership between the school, home and parish.”

“Maintaining the current taxation base is a vital connection between school boards and their electors, especially those electors without children in the school system,” LaGrange said. “It provides a mechanism for direct accountability of school board trustees to their electors for the quality of education provided.”

-with files from Caley Ramsay, Global News