Public schools must take priority in new neighbourhoods, says Edmonton trustee

Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is pitching a province-wide policy which would give public schools precedence in new neighbourhoods.

'If there is a new neighbourhood, the first school built should be a public school'

Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is pitching a new provincial funding formula which would ensure public schools are constructed first in new neighbourhoods. (CBC)

Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is pitching a province-wide policy which would give public schools precedence in new neighbourhoods.

Janz wants his board to push for a commitment from the Notley government that new neighbourhoods get a public or shared school first.

"If there is a new neighbourhood, the first school built should be a public school," Janz said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It gives choice to students. It gives choice to families. And finally for teachers, it gives them an opportunity for employment without having to be of one minority faith."

The construction of new schools is determined by the provincial government, based on long-term capital plans submitted by school boards across Alberta.

In the 2017/18 fiscal year, $1.4 billion in capital funding was allocated for the construction of new schools, modernization of existing schools, modular classrooms and capital maintenance of existing schools.

The Alberta government ensures schools in both the secular and religious systems receive the same amount of funding, per student.

'School boards don't decide'

The funding formula currently used by the government has left Edmonton's growing population with inadequate access to public schools, Janz said.

"School boards don't decide where they get new schools," Janz said. "What they do is submit a list at this time of year called their three-year capital plan which requests schools in new neighbourhoods."

Edmonton continues to grow, with 3,000 new students expected to join the public district next year, Janz said.

"Since 1994, what we've seen is that a greater share of that infrastructure — the new schools, the portables and the modulars — have gone to the Catholic districts rather than the public districts."

Janz will introduce his motion at the public school board meeting on Tuesday.

'Like a sledgehammer for a tack'

Janz' policy would interfere with the local decision-making process, said John Tomkinson, former vice-president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association.

"Taking a look at Michael's proposal, it's like a sledgehammer for a tack," said Tomkinson, a teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Wetaskiwin.

It really is going to take away local decision making and local engagement under the auspices of a philosophical commitment.

"It really is going to take away local decision making and local engagement under the auspices of a philosophical commitment that he would like to see the provincial government make," he said.

Alberta should be more transparent about the budgeting process for education, but Janz's proposal is too rigid, and fails to account for the complicated way the province allocates capital funding, he said.

Given that more children are enrolled in the Catholic system, the public school would actually suffer under the proposed guidelines, Tomkinson said.
An Edmonton Public School Board Trustee proposes that the first school built in any new neighbourhood be a public or shared public school. That proposal and reaction to it. 8:35
"I think it's really important to see local communities have their engagement and have their say rather than a one-size fits all approach all across the province," Tomkinson said.

While Edmonton public schools might benefit from Janz's proposal, other public boards in the province may not.

"If this actually goes ahead so it's equality all the way across, it's actually going to be the public systems across the province, on the whole, that are going to lose their sites."

The Edmonton Catholic Board declined to comment but provided a statement to CBC News on Friday.

"The proposed motion is contrary to the interests of students and families in our community," reads the statement from trustee Terry Harris.

"Choice in publicly-funded education is the cornerstone of the success of Alberta's educational system.

"Catholic education provides parents with an important choice and the Edmonton Catholic School District results speak for themselves."