September 20, 2017 2:01 pm
Updated: September 20, 2017 8:52 pm

‘The system is corrupt’: Edmonton trustee calls for merger of public, Catholic school boards

WATCH ABOVE: A high-profile and controversial school trustee won't be back for another term on the Edmonton Catholic School Board and on her way out, has delivered some parting shots against the body. Fletcher Kent explains.

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Outspoken Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD) trustee Patricia Grell believes Alberta should only have one school system, saying the different divisions are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

In a blog post detailing why she is not running for a second term in Ward 71, Grell detailed her grievances with a school system she calls “corrupt.”

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Grell said she doesn’t want to “rubber-stamp” decisions made by school administrators anymore and called for more autonomy between the elected board and school division staff.

READ MORE: Rally held in support of Edmonton Catholic school trustee

She claimed the school board administration will support election candidates with whom they have longstanding friendships, so if elected, the trustees will go along with their recommendations.

“It costs taxpayers millions of dollars to fund the 61 school boards across Alberta. ECSD board alone costs taxpayers over a million dollars in salaries and administrative support. If boards are just rubber-stamping what the administration wants, why have school boards?” Grell wrote.

Interference from above

Grell claims the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, the archbishop, and the clergy use Canon Law “to threaten Catholic boards and use their influence to meddle in the policy work of boards, subverting democratically elected school boards.”

READ MORE: Catholic School Board defers contentious washroom decision to school

She accused Archbishop Richard Smith of meddling with the board’s policymaking, using his position to influence how decisions were made in regards to Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and developing an LGBTQ policy.

“I have never seen such an interest by the archdiocese and the bishops in the outcome of trustee elections.

“Perhaps they have become disturbed that well-educated trustees are not interested in following their antiquated ideas about women, the HPV vaccine, GSAs, LGBTQ, transgender washroom access, participation in Pride parades etc. They are astounded that some Catholic trustees are actually following their own conscience and the Gospel rather than their dictates,” Grell wrote.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton offered sent Global News a statement in response to Grell’s assertions.

“The Archbishop is encouraging all Catholic voters to engage in the electoral process, meet their candidates for the Catholic school board and make informed choices,” the statement reads.

“The fact is that Catholic school trustees do have two lines of accountability: one to the provincial minister of education and one to their Catholic bishops. This dual responsibility – which was outlined in the recent letter issued by the Alberta bishops – has long been well-understood by most trustees.

“There are nine Catholic school districts in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, plus the Centre-Nord francophone district, whose board has a mix of Catholic and public trustees.”

READ MORE: Trustees speak out after Pride decorations removed from Edmonton Catholic high school

As Edmonton residents decide who to vote for in the Oct. 16 election, Grell is urging them to ask door-knocking candidates questions like “What is your relationship with the school district administration and with the archdiocese?”

Calls to merge public and Catholic

Grell is also calling on Alberta to have one publicly funded system with a Catholic program option within it.

“From what I have seen over the last four years, I do not believe that Catholic schools are any better academically, socially or even spiritually than their public counterparts.”

Grell said Catholic high schools are allowed to turn away Catholic students in favour of public students, but at the same time “Catholic schools will waste tax dollars on duplicating facilities in order to segregate Catholic students from public students.”

She claims a decision on sharing school bus services with Edmonton Public Schools has been delayed because ECSD administration fears if the Catholic board appears willing to work together on some issues, “the next step will be a complete amalgamation of the two systems.”

Edmonton Catholic School Board Chair Laura Thibert issued the following statement:

“I will not be commenting on Patricia Grell’s blog or statements. Moving forward, this is a time for all Catholic constituents to vote for a candidate who reflects their vision for Catholic education,” she wrote.

“Parents choose our district because of our Catholic values that are taught every day in a faith-based infused curriculum. As a board we will continue to protect Catholic education and remain accountable to the voters who elect us.”

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan says he shares Grell’s “concerns about the discriminatory attitudes towards members of the LGBTQ2S+ community” and urges “all school boards to create, adopt and publish their LGBTQ2S+ policies for the public to view.

“Additionally, I call on the education minister to require the immediate implementation of GSA policies by every school board,” Khan said in an emailed statement sent out Wednesday afternoon. “Furthermore, I am concerned by some of the claims of inefficiently spent funds and a dysfunctional governance culture. This is very troubling.”

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

Grell is an outspoken, progressive member of what has been known to be a problem-plagued Catholic school board. Earlier this year, Grell and fellow trustee Marilyn Bergstra were reprimanded by the chair for “speaking against Catholic values.

Grell has a master of divinity — a degree for pastors and people serving in a church ministry — and describes herself as an active member of the church. She said she ran as a trustee to represent her community and the people who voted her. She said she is not running again because she is “highly disappointed in the archdiocesan leadership,” claiming decisions were made contradictory to the teachings of the Bible.

“It is hard for me to stand by and watch them use our 100 per cent publicly funded Catholic schools to promote their hatred and bigotry.”

Marilyn Bergstra is seeking re-election in Ward 76.

-With files from Phil Heidenreich.

LISTEN: Patricia Grell speaks Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED.

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