Red Deer public school trustee calls for unified Alberta school system

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A trustee with Red Deer Public Schools is pushing for one unified public school system in Alberta that would allow local school boards to offer Catholic and other faith-based programs.

“Our education system in Alberta has been running the same way since 1905,” said Dianne Macaulay, who has been a trustee with Red Deer Public Schools for 13 years.

“Separate school education in Alberta was never a condition of Confederation and I feel that it’s no longer a need in our society. Catholic education can still be a need but not at the will of two separate school boards.”

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

Macaulay notified the board at a meeting Wednesday night she intends on asking her fellow trustees for support on the idea.

“This is a thoughtful and intelligent conversation. There’s nothing personal, there’s nothing anti-Catholic about this, I just believe there’s a better way to have education given to our students in Alberta,” she said.

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“What is the need to have a totally different system with different administrators, different trustees, different schools, et cetera?”

She said she supports choice within public school districts and believes there is an opportunity for public boards to expand faith program offerings.

“All Alberta taxpayers pay for public education in this province and yet we have two school systems that are only for students of one religion,” Macaulay wrote in a letter she posted on social media Thursday morning.

“This is no different than Red Deer Public operating French immersion programs, which do not challenge the existence of the constitutionally protected francophone school boards.

“I see it really working in the public school systems that have Christian-based programming. Why can’t that be done with other faiths like Muslim and Jewish and Catholic? We don’t have to have a whole separate system just because faith is being introduced into schools.”

“Alberta’s fortunate to have a variety of choice of education in the province and as a result, has one of the best education systems in the world,” Guy Pelletier, board chair for Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools said Thursday evening. “I don’t recall seeing in her motion any reason for doing it so we certainly think Alberta has a great system – two great systems – with public and separate and we see no reason to change that.”

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Macaulay’s idea is similar to one floated by the former Edmonton Public School Board chair earlier this year.

In a blog post written in February, Michael Janz said he believed Catholic faith programs should be offered in public schools.

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

In late March, 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.

On the heels of the suggestions, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) issued an editorial earlier this month 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 in early April. “The only way to save taxpayer money would be if all 175,000 students simply stop having access to education altogether.”

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

“I’m not sure where it comes from,” Pelletier said of the recent calls to rethink Alberta’s education system. “It does seem to come up every few years but certainly, as a board that’s very active in our community, both locally and across the province, we don’t hear really any concerns raised from the broader public or from the government in this regard… there are, on occasion, a few folks that bring it up but there’s really not much basis for it that we see or any sound reasons to make changes to what is a very effective system already.

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“Catholic education’s been around for many, many years and has had great success in the province and offering that within a public umbrella, that doesn’t really honour the original intentions of Catholic education.”

In previous meetings with the education minister and local MLAs, Macaulay said the board has expressed its “concerns on the duplication of resources and time and money that our province is throwing away having two systems.”

Macaulay wanted to make it clear this is her vision only. A formal vote will be held at a board meeting on May 10.

Between now and then, Macaulay is calling on fellow Alberta school trustees to get involved in the conversation and lobby the government for change.

“Alberta has a very good education system but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels since it hasn’t been changed since 1905. Any extra money that can be put in the classrooms, that can help our students, that can help our teachers, I’m all on board for 100 per cent.”

A request for comment by the Alberta government was not returned by the time this story was published.

The Alberta School Boards Association, which represents all 61 publicly funded school boards in the province, said the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association would be the best organization to comment on this story.

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The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association said its president is away for Holy Week and could speak with Global News sometime next week.

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