Former Alberta Education minister starts conversation of combining public, separate school systems

President of Catholic Schools trustee association doesn’t support idea

David King, former Alberta Education minister, and Adriana LaGrange, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association

The rational for amalgamating the Alberta’s Catholic and public school systems into one doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, says Adriana LaGrange, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

LaGrange, who is a trustee of the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools board, said Friday that, among other things, the cost of implementation would likely outstrip any savings, and it would create a lot of uncertainty.

She was responding to former Progressive Conservative Alberta Education minister David King who this week launched an online campaign IDEA: Inclusive, Diverse Education For All.

King, who now lives in Victoria, B.C., was Education minister from 1979 to 1986, and argues that the costs related to running two systems could be re-diverted to benefit students. The administration cost for 17 Catholic school divisions in Alberta last year was $61 million.

He said people across Alberta have expressed concern about the two systems, generally on particular issues such as Gay Straight Alliances, or Catholic schools being built where there is no public school available.

There would be one-time costs association with integration, but after that there would be money available to reinvest in the education system in the classroom rather than administration, he said.

“There’s no formal organization at all. This is an initiative of David King,” he said.

LaGrange said the idea of bringing the two school systems comes up when there are fiscal challenges.

There would be very little to no savings, and perhaps an even larger cost, to amalgamate, she said.

In 1998 when Ontario reduced the number of overall school boards, it cost $1.2 billion in additional transition costs, she said.

“We would still have the same number of students. We would still have the same need for teachers and administrators, and all of that.”

“The fact that we do have longstanding constitutional rights to Catholic education … we’ve got a distinctive role in Alberta’s public education system. … It’s not respecting the long proud heritage of Catholic education.”

Alberta ranks fifth in the world in education quality, which speaks to the success of the current model, she said. “Why would we be looking at changing that?”

Catholic schools are open to accepting all students but they have to accept Catholic (resident) students first, and when there’s room to accept non-Catholic students, the space is made available. “The fact remains that we don’t water down our faith to accept non-resident students.”

LaGrange also said that Catholic and public boards do work collaboratively together all the time. They share busing, have joint-use agreements, and joint purchasing agreements for utilities.

“What I see being proposed is something that would … cause a monopoly for one group, and really diminish the ability of fully permeated faith as guaranteed to us under the Constitution and under the different acts.”

“It would probably create a lot of angst, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of chaos for sure when you think in terms of the fact that in Alberta, 173,000 students, which is approximately one-third of all the students in Alberta, attend Catholic schools.”

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