Calgary Islamic School parents, Muslim Council of Calgary lock horns

Approximately 30 parents of students at the Calgary Islamic School rallied to protest against the leadership of the Muslim Council of Calgary on Friday, saying there is not enough transparency for where their school fee dollars are spent.

In transition from private to public system, parents ask where school fee dollars will be spent

Parents of kids in Calgary Islamic School protested after Friday prayers in front of Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre, August 28 (CBC)

Approximately 30 parents with children at the Calgary Islamic School (CIS) rallied to protest against the leadership of the Muslim Council of Calgary (MCC) after Friday prayers at the Akram Jomaa mosque in Calgary's northeast.

They say there's not enough transparency or accountability for where their school fees are spent.

"We have a right as parents, putting money into this community, we need to know where it goes, and unfortunately there's no communication on the other end," said Rema Taha, who has two children in the school.

Friday was the third such protest in as many weeks.

The protests started after CIS joined the Palliser Regional Schools in late July — a southern Alberta school board that runs faith-based schools in rural areas and Calgary.

The parents do not oppose the move to Palliser, which increases per-pupil funding and adds services for students with special needs.

Accountability questions

But the protesters say parents were not consulted about the deal, and their major concerns now are money and accountability.

Last year's total school fees amounted to $3.06 million.

Under the new system, parents will still be required to pay $1,700 in annual school fees for their first child and $1,360 for additional siblings.

That's a $500 decrease from when the school was private. But parents say there has not been adequate explanation of where their school fees go.

It's not unusual for faith-based schools in Alberta to have school fees even though they are in the public system, because government dollars do not cover expenses such as bussing and faith-based study materials.

The protesting CIS parents say the MCC has been inappropriately interfering with the school's operations.

Parents are angry that the MCC dissolved the entire parent-elected CIS board in April 2015, leaving an appointed board in place until the Palliser board takes over in September.

The MCC says they dissolved the parent-elected board because its mandate had expired and there were only a few months left until the transition to the Palliser board.

The former chair of the parent-elected board, Renata Muminhodzic, told CBC News that the parent-elected board's mandate was not set to expire until November 2015.

In mid August, the MCC-appointed school board fired the principal, vice principal, and a school administrator. All three were reinstated days later, but the vice principal refused to return.

Firings mishandled

The acting chair of the MCC, Ghazanfar Zafar, admits the staff firings were mishandled.

"It wasn't done through the right processes ... there weren't proper approvals, etc. etc. and that's why we made it right," he said.

Zafar also concedes MCC's financial transparency has been lacking.

"Yes, in terms of the legacy days, the system has not been that transparent ... but under the current MCC, we are trying to move this towards much more transparent ways where the public will have direct access to it.

... There's a lot of resistance from what I call the old system... rest assured, we have the audits in place."

He told CBC News the school's financial statements were not posted on MCC's website because the site was compromised by a security risk.

Zafar said he would make the school's financial information available to anyone who asked, and he made audited statements available to the CBC News.

He says the school fee money is being saved to build new Islamic schools in Calgary.

There are wait lists of 800 to 1,000 children, with hundreds more who have given up being on the list.

Protesters are calling for a new election of MCC leaders, and they say they will protest every Friday until an election is called.

The term of the current MCC board officially expired in July.

Zafar says they have not held elections yet because of outstanding issues in a pending lawsuit.

MCC is suing a group of individuals over a dispute about MCC election bylaws.

The lawsuit court date is in early October.