Favouritism al­leged as school re­ceives play­ground fund­ing

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - EVA FER­GU­SON efer­gu­[email protected]­media.com

Days af­ter Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion promised $200,000 in play­ground fund­ing for a south­east Cal­gary school com­pet­ing in a cor­po­rate char­ity con­test, par­ents from other schools across the prov­ince are ques­tion­ing why they were ig­nored while a rid­ing with an NDP MLA sud­denly re­ceived money.

“We are hear­ing from schools in Cal­gary, and now we’re hear­ing from Ed­mon­ton, too,” said Barb Silva, spokes­woman for the Sup­port Our Stu­dents ad­vo­cacy group.

“This school has re­ceived fund­ing, maybe be­cause they are in a very pub­lic, na­tion­wide con­test, and now the prov­ince thinks they look like the hero.

“But what has ac­tu­ally hap­pened is that this de­ci­sion has only high­lighted the se­ri­ous in­equities that ex­ist in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and the lack of fund­ing for ba­sic re­sources.”

Last week, the Kraft Heinz Project Play Con­test an­nounced that St. Pe­ter School is one of four fi­nal­ists in a con­test to re­ceive $250,000 for a new play­ground. Lo­cated in Pen­brooke Mead­ows, the school has been with­out a play­ground for more than a year af­ter be­ing forced to take down the for­mer one for safety rea­sons.

Af­ter the con­test an­nounce­ment and me­dia ques­tions about the lack of a play­ground at the school, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter David Eggen said the prov­ince would pro­vide St. Pe­ter with $200,000 for a play­ground, whether the school wins the con­test or not.

A de­ci­sion on the con­test win­ner will be made Oct. 28, which means St. Pe­ter could get as much as $450,000.

As a re­sult, sev­eral par­ent groups at schools across the prov­ince raised ques­tions as to why this school will re­ceive fund­ing while they have been work­ing fundrais­ers for their own play­grounds for years.

Many barely missed the cut-off for money an­nounced by the NDP gov­ern­ment last June, pro­vid­ing $20 mil­lion over four years to en­sure all newly built K-6 schools would get play­grounds. Un­der the pro­gram, new el­e­men­tary schools were el­i­gi­ble for grants of $250,000 retroac­tive to 2014, but schools an­nounced be­fore that are not el­i­gi­ble.

Matt Pechey, whose seven-yearold son at­tends Our Lady of Grace School in Evan­ston, said be­cause their school was an­nounced in 2013, they missed the fund­ing cut­off by a mere three months.

“We’ve been fundrais­ing for a play­ground since the fall of 2016. We’re only at about $45,000 right now,” Pechey said, adding that par­ents are work­ing hard to raise money through bot­tle drives, pub nights and sell­ing choco­late al­monds.

Mean­while, Pechey said, with­out a play­ground, stu­dents at the K-9 school of­ten spend their free time stand­ing around, even in­vent­ing games with sticks and rocks, which can be a safety hazard.

“A play­ground would be so much bet­ter. It teaches them so­cial skills, shar­ing and co-or­di­na­tion. It’s safe play and it’s some­thing that would ben­e­fit our whole com­mu­nity.”

Am­ber Ste­wart, a for­mer CBE school trustee, has been work­ing to raise funds for play­grounds at both New Brighton School and Cop­per­field School in the south­east be­cause both also missed the cut-off for fund­ing even though they were part of the wave of new schools built af­ter 2014.

“This means that schools that were an­nounced later and opened at the same time have play­grounds, while New Brighton and Cop­per­field par­ents are still choco­late-cov­ered-al­mond fundrais­ing their way to get a play­ground,” Ste­wart said.

“I am thrilled that Pen­brooke Mead­ows is go­ing to re­ceive pro­vin­cial fund­ing to help them on their way. This will make a huge dif­fer­ence to their com­mu­nity and their stu­dents.

“I just wish that there was some eq­uity. I don’t think it is a co­in­ci­dence that this school lies within a rid­ing that is cur­rently held by an NDP MLA. It feels like the gov­ern­ment is play­ing hard and fast with favourites lead­ing into an elec­tion next year.”

NDP MLA Robyn Luff, who rep­re­sents the Cal­gary-East rid­ing where St. Pe­ter School is lo­cated, said the prov­ince is work­ing to cre­ate more fund­ing for play­grounds in the next bud­getary cy­cle.

“This has been a long-stand­ing is­sue in Al­berta. There have been schools with­out play­ground fund­ing for quite some time.”

Eggen said the prov­ince rec­og­nizes there is more work to do and has iden­ti­fied St. Pe­ter School as the first project in a pilot pro­gram that will in­vest more dol­lars in play­ground fund­ing.

“I have al­ready heard from many school com­mu­ni­ties that need a new play­ground, in­clud­ing those in op­po­si­tion rid­ings,” Eggen said, vow­ing that more fund­ing projects will be an­nounced in the com­ing weeks. “It doesn’t mat­ter where a stu­dent lives, they need a func­tion­ing play­ground as part of their well-rounded ed­u­ca­tion.

“We will use lessons from the pilot to in­form a per­ma­nent pro­gram for school play­ground re­place­ments,” Eggen added, invit­ing schools wish­ing to sub­mit a project to get in touch with him.

But Silva has ar­gued that schools should never be put in the po­si­tion of com­pet­ing for fund­ing, adding that Sup­port Our Stu­dents has been made aware of sev­eral schools that will need play­ground fund­ing. St. Hu­bert School in Hunt­ing­ton Hills con­ducted an au­dit that said its play­ground had to be torn down be­cause it was too dan­ger­ous. But par­ents are still $9,000 away from their fundrais­ing goal.

DAR­REN MAKOWICHUK

Matt Pechey, with son Neo, 7, has been fundrais­ing since 2016 for a play­ground at Our Lady of Grace School in Evan­ston.

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