Catholic chair makes pitch for new schools

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JANET FRENCH jfrench@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/jantafrench

Catholic stu­dents need two new schools built and two old schools mod­ern­ized each year to keep pace with en­rol­ment, Ed­mon­ton’s Catholic school board chair­man says.

“We’re hope­ful that those needs will fall on un­der­stand­ing ears,” board chair­man Terry Har­ris said Tues­day.

His com­ments came the same day a for­mer Al­berta ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter called on the prov­ince to put a mora­to­rium on all new Catholic school con­struc­tion.

New at­ten­dance and de­mo­graphic data prompted the Ed­mon­ton Catholic board to re­order its school con­struc­tion re­quest list Tues­day, push­ing a new Catholic K-9 school in Keswick and a new K-6 school in Lewis Farms up the list.

Par­ents in south­east Ed­mon­ton may be dis­ap­pointed a K-6 school planned for the Mead­ows has been nudged to pri­or­ity No. 6 from its pre­vi­ous top spot.

Dur­ing the past year, the num­ber of stu­dents at­tend­ing Catholic schools who live in Keswick and Lewis Farms has jumped, said Boris Radyo, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent of ed­u­ca­tional planning.

St. John XXIII, the clos­est Catholic school to Keswick, is at 98 per cent ca­pac­ity, and ex­pected to hit 113 per cent by 2022, even if the district adds eight por­ta­ble class­rooms, Radyo said.

Like­wise, Bishop David Motiuk, the clos­est Catholic school to Lewis Farms, is pro­jected to hit 121 per cent ca­pac­ity by 2022.

For­mer ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter David King, who runs a cam­paign to amal­ga­mate the pub­lic and Catholic school sys­tems, said Tues­day the prov­ince should stop fund­ing Catholic school con­struc­tion.

“It is time for a thought­ful con­ver­sa­tion, in­volv­ing ev­ery in­ter­ested Al­ber­tan, about why we du­pli­cate ad­min­is­tra­tion and ser­vices, and op­er­ate un­der­uti­lized schools, to pre­serve a de­nom­i­na­tional priv­i­lege that is out of keep­ing with cur­rent hu­man rights prac­tices and may no longer be rel­e­vant,” King wrote.

The gov­ern­ment won’t con­sider such a mora­to­rium, said Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter David Eggen’s press sec­re­tary, Lind­say Har­vey.

“Min­is­ter Eggen and Pre­mier Not­ley have been clear: our gov­ern­ment sup­ports Catholic ed­u­ca­tion in Al­berta,” she said in an email Tues­day evening.

Ed­mon­ton’s pub­lic school board passed a mo­tion in March to lobby gov­ern­ment to en­sure pub­lic schools get a “fair and eq­ui­table share” of school con­struc­tion dol­lars, af­ter a trustee said fund­ing de­ci­sions un­fairly favoured Catholic boards.

Har­ris said that ap­proach is “prob­lem­atic” when one con­sid­ers the sub­stan­tial growth in Catholic schools. Nearly 9,000 more stu­dents at­tend Ed­mon­ton Catholic schools today than in the fall of 2010 — a 26 per cent in­crease.

The Catholic district’s re­vised school con­struc­tion pri­or­ity list, ap­proved unan­i­mously by the board Tues­day, has a No. 1 re­quest for $1 mil­lion in de­sign fund­ing from the prov­ince for a new high school up­grad­ing cen­tre, also in Lewis Farms.

The west-end high school com­ple­tion cen­tre would be housed in a new city re­cre­ation cen­tre that in­cludes child care, an aquatic cen­tre and other ameni­ties, Radyo said. The district must tell the city by Dec. 1 whether they’re part of the joint project, he said.

The up­grad­ing school would serve fourth- and fifth-year high school stu­dents, new par­ents still in school, In­dige­nous stu­dents and English-lan­guage learn­ers.

We’re hope­ful that those needs will fall on un­der­stand­ing ears.

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