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