The construction of six new schools in Calgary is tied to public school board helping the province find space for the expansion of charter schools.

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Premier Alison Redford was in Calgary and Edmonton to announce new school projects. Now a letter says the Calgary Board of Education needs to help find space for charter schools if they want new buildings. (CBC)

A recent letter to the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) states the provincial education department is working with independent, publicly funded charter schools to "address their need for guaranteed access to school space."

"The approval of the capital projects as listed above is conditional upon your board supporting and co-operating with educational officials in achieving this outcome, whether by means of transfer of school facilities to charter schools, long-term lease or otherwise," the letter says.

Charter schools operate independently from the province's public and Catholic school boards.

Most have waiting lists for new students, who often have to meet certain conditions before they can enrol. Charter schools don't charge tuition.

Amber Stewart, a mother of three running for the Calgary Board of Education's school board, said she was excited about plans for a new school in her neighbourhood of New Brighton, but is now worried.

New Calgary schools:

1. Auburn Bay

Calgary Roman Catholic Separate School District

New kindergarten to Grade 9 school

2. Copperfield

Calgary Board of Education

New kindergarten to Grade 4 school

3. New Brighton

Calgary Board of Education

New kindergarten to Grade 4 school

4. Northeast Calgary

Calgary Board of Education

New Grade 10-12 high school

5. Martindale

Greater Southern Public Francophone Education Region

Kindergarten to Grade 6 replacement for Ecole La Mosaique starter school

6. Saddle Ridge

Calgary Board of Education

New Grade 5-9 school

7. Evanston

Calgary Board of Education

New kindergarten to Grade 4 school

8. Evanston

Calgary Roman Catholic Separate School District

New kindergarten to Grade 9 school

9. Royal Oak/Rocky Ridge

Calgary Board of Education

New Grade 5-9 school

"My big concern is that schools will either be delayed or they'll be cancelled," she said. "We needed them yesterday."

Empty school buildings

Education Minister Jeff Johnson said the government is spending millions of dollars leasing buildings from school boards that were built with taxpayer money years ago.

If Alberta school boards have empty buildings, particularly in inner-city neighbourhoods, they could be filled with charter and Francophone students, he said.

The demand for news schools tends to be in the suburbs.

"It's quite simple," Johnson said. "If the CBE, as an example, doesn't want to give up their surplus school and they have that space that they want to put their kids in, then they're welcome to do that, and we're going to have to invest the dollars in new schools for other school systems."

School boards in Edmonton and Calgary have shown a willingness to co-operate, he added.

The directive is good news for Calgary's charter schools, which have thousands on their waitlists.

"In our case, we're full," said Jay Pritchard, superintendent of Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary. "So we can't grow anymore, despite the fact we have a huge waiting list. If we could acquire a couple more facilities, we could grow."

Not school mandates: Liberals

Alberta Liberal education critic Kent Hehr said public schools are already bursting at the seams.

"Why is the minister threatening to withhold new schools for the public school boards because charter schools have not been able to secure space for their students, which is in their mandate to do?" said Hehr in a statement.

"Now the minister is asking public school boards to go outside of their mandate to find space for charter schools when it can’t even find space for its own students. This is just wrong."

Calgary’s charter schools also include Almadina Language Charter Academy, Calgary Arts Academy, Calgary Girls’ School, Calgary Science School and Westmount Charter School for gifted students.