CBE fee urged de­spite legal risk

Trustees asked to hike lunch su­per­vi­sion cost by 40%

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MATT McCLURE

Top of­fi­cials at Cal­gary’s pub­lic school board are ask­ing trustees to hike noon-hour su­per­vi­sion fees by 40 per cent, de­spite legal ad­vice that says charg­ing par­ents any­thing to take care of their chil­dren over lunch may be un­law­ful.

An April 12 memo from lawyers at McLeod Dixon warns there is a “sig­nif­i­cant risk” the Cal­gary Board of Ed­u­ca­tion could be found not to have the legal au­thor­ity to charge the pro­posed $280 fee. It’s now $200 per child per year.

But CBE chief su­per­in­ten­dent Naomi John­son tabled a re­port at a trustees meet­ing a week later that rec­om­mended the cash-strapped board pro­ceed with a planned fee in­crease next year that would reap $4.1 mil­lion.

CBE of­fi­cials did not re­spond to writ­ten ques­tions Fri­day about the fee it levies on par­ents of an es­ti­mated 14,000 stu­dents, but the 13page opin­ion ob­tained by the Her­ald shows the CBE’s legal coun­sel Rod Pe­den ex­plic­itly warned the board’s levy could earn it the wrath of Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Dave Han­cock.

“With­out any ex­press au­thor­ity in the School Act for the board to charge these fees,” reads the memo, “there is the real risk that the min­is­ter may, on re­view, take ex­cep­tion to the board do­ing so.”

Larry Leach, pres­i­dent of the fledg­ling As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­spon­sive Trustee­ship in Cal­gary Schools, said the memo raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the CBE’s in­tegrity and trans­parency.

“It’s con­fir­ma­tion of the pub­lic’s concern about the se­crecy of this board,” Leach said.

“In­stead of pre­tend­ing this legal prob­lem doesn’t ex­ist, they need to be forth­right with par­ents so we can find a way to move for­ward.”

The leaked memo comes amid a grow­ing con­tro­versy about the $6.3 mil­lion in in­struc­tional sup­plies and ma­te­ri­als fees the CBE also charges.

A Cal­gary lawyer says hun­dreds of par­ents have been re­fus­ing to pay charges of up to $132 per child for more than eight years in hopes of forc­ing a court­room battle over the fee’s le­gal­ity.

A Her­ald anal­y­sis of CBE re­ports sug­gests an es­ti­mated 5,000 par­ents are re­fus­ing to pay and that the un­col­lected bill for the past three years may be as much as $1.9 mil­lion.

Han­cock said his depart­ment doesn’t have a po­lice force to check up on boards, but he’s will­ing to field com­plaints­frompar­ents who feel they’re be­ing forced to pay for the ne­ces­si­ties of a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

“Ev­ery child is en­ti­tled to at­tend school and get an ed­u­ca­tion with­out charge,” Han­cock said.

“You need text­books, so you can’t be forced to buy one or pay a rental fee that’s not re­turn­able.”

He said the same ap­plies for chem­i­cals used in a science lab or wood used in a car­pen­try course.

“If you want to do some­thing ex­otic, like build a black wal­nut cof­fee ta­ble for a Christ­mas gift, pre­sum­ably you might be charged for the ex­tra cost of ma­te­ri­als,” Han­cock said.

“That’s the sort of logic that should go into school fees.’

As for billing par­ents a noon-hour su­per­vi­sion fee, Han­cock said it would only be ap­pro­pri­ate in cir­cum­stances where it was pos­si­ble for chil­dren to walk home for lunch.

The gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed Ed­u­ca­tion Act would still give boards the power to levy fees, but it would de­fine what they can charge for in reg­u­la­tions that will be writ­ten af­ter pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

Jac­quie Hansen, pres­i­dent of the Al­berta School Board’s As­so­ci­a­tion, said the dis­cus­sion about fees is long over­due.

“Boards don’t want to charge fees, but do par­ents want their chil­dren un­su­per­vised over the lunch hour?” Hansen said.

“We need to look at the costs boards face, what’s in­cluded in a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, and how it’s all go­ing to be funded.”

Trustees with the CBE have not ap­proved the pro­posed hike in noon­hour su­per­vi­sion fees.

At its next meet­ing, Tues­day, the board is ex­pected to de­bate a planned 60 per cent hike in bus­ing charges that would force fam­i­lies to pay up to $670 a year.

While the board pro­vides fee waivers to low-in­come fam­i­lies, anti-poverty ac­tivists say the in­come cut-off of $26,397 for a fam­ily of four is far too low.

It’s con­fir­ma­tion of the pub­lic’s concern about the se­crecy of this board Larry Leach, as­so­ci­a­tion for re­spon­sive trustee­ship in caL­gary schooLs

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