Red Deer Public Schools is the first public school board in Alberta to formally state its support for a single publicly-funded education system.
At its meeting on Wednesday, the board voted 4 - 3 in favour of a motion presented by Trustee Dianne Macaulay, which originally called for a ‘unified’ system and one that would potentially include alternative Catholic programming.
During debate, Trustee Dr. Bill Stuebing proposed an amendment to remove the Catholic provision and revise the first portion to read that the division will advocate for “a single publicly-funded education system.”
Macaulay was pleased to see her motion pass, yet surprised at the slim margin as she says the board has always supported the idea as a member of the Public School Boards Association of Alberta.
She also said she has no problem with Stuebing’s amendment.
“I worded it the way I did because I wanted the conversation to happen. I never wanted to take away choice. We have a very well-attended Christian program within Red Deer Public,” she said. “I am not against having any kind of religious programming within our schools, but I thought this would hopefully alleviate those fears that we also heard within this boardroom [today], and from the few trustees that did contact me from separate school [boards], there were concerns they would lose their jobs, teachers would lose their jobs, and that the Catholic faith would be lost.”
Macaulay said if the public wants there to be Catholic options within a single system, then so be it.
Board Chair Bev Manning voted against the motion, though she expressed some support in principle. She told fellow board members that by raising this discussion, the Catholic side feels threatened and that, “This isn’t our charge to make.”
Manning added, “We have lobbied for that often with our MLAs and we’ve talked about it often with our community. The difference is at this point we are taking a public stand and passing a public motion about it, so it carries with it a little bit different weight at the end of the day. “
Manning said she is uncertain what the division will do now, but noted they will need to discuss any ensuing actions as a board.
Stuebing had his own thoughts on what should happen next.
“Are we going to start a campaign? No. We’ve got more important business to do with our students here in Red Deer. That’s what our primary task is. A motion was brought forward, but I would not have initiated it if it were up to me,” he said.
rdnewsNOW spoke with Red Deer Catholic Board Chair Guy Pelletier, who called the decision disappointing. He said it’s particularly troublesome considering there’s been no evidence to suggest that any changes need to happen to the two already high-functioning systems.
“We’ve always had a friendly, collegial, cooperative relationship and I don’t see that changing. I would like to understand a bit more about some of the reasons they think this is best for students. Certainly, I don’t think it would be best for Catholic students,” he said. “Maybe we need to reach out and help them understand why we’re so attached to it.”
When Macaulay announced her intentions last month, she claimed there was no longer a Constitutional right to have a Catholic school division in Alberta, which she now admits was incorrect.
“That’s something I’ve learned throughout this conversation is that they are constitutionally protected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed,” she urged.
In the end, Macaulay wants those on the other side to know it isn’t personal.
“When you start talking about religion and changing schools, it starts to be personal. This is about being better stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Macaulay, Stuebing, Jim Watters and Bill Christie voted in favour of the motion while Manning, Dick Lemke and Cathy Peacocke voted against it.
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