Public schools should offer Catholic programming, says board chair

Public schools in Edmonton should be allowed to offer Catholic faith alternative programming, says Michael Janz, trustee and chair of the Edmonton public school board. The move could save billions of dollars in capital costs because fewer new schools would be needed, he said Tuesday.

'Finding ways that we can be more efficient and save money, that could be hundreds of millions of dollars'

Michael Janz, chair of the Edmonton public school board, has written a blog post musing about the possibility of his district offering Catholic programming. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Allowing public schools in Edmonton to offer Catholic faith alternative programming could save billions of dollars, says Michael Janz, chair of the Edmonton public school board.

"One of my goals here is that we can have the conversation about how we build and allocate new schools in new neighbourhoods," Janz said Tuesday.

One proposal is for an umbrella school, operated by Edmonton Public Schools, with several programs within it.

"A couple of classrooms dedicated to say, French Immersion, a couple of classrooms dedicated to Catholic faith programming," Janz said. "We may be able to find millions of dollars in efficiencies."

A blog post describing the plan was posted by the board chair Monday evening.

Cost-saving measure

Education funding is the second largest expenditure for the province, behind health. In terms of capital projects alone, the province's most recent five-year capital plan calls for $3.5 billion to be spent on schools, including $2.9 billion to complete 200 new schools.

"Finding ways that we can be more efficient and save money, that could be hundreds of millions of dollars," Janz said.

Seems a bit redundant.- David Eggen, Minister of Education

Janz will raise the idea of having the public school board provide Catholic programming at the board's Feb. 14 meeting.

The motion that Edmonton public trustees will be asked to consider next week calls on district administration to find out whether or not the Minister of Education, or the School Act, would permit a public school system to create a Catholic faith alternative program.

Vote would be required

The answer would have to be debated. Moving forward with the idea would require the board's approval, Janz said.

Education Minister David Eggen said the Janz idea "seems a bit redundant" because Alberta has a Catholic school system "that's doing a fine job of educating students right across the province."

He said the public board doesn't need to ask the government's permission to offer other religious programming, and Catholic programming would be no different.

This is not about the public school system taking students away from Catholic schools, Janz said. (Lydia Neufeld)

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association is opposed to the idea.

"Catholic schools in Alberta are not just another school system, or substitute offering, but rather are schools with a Catholic-centred view which permeates the whole learning experience," the association said in a news release.

Catholicism 'not an alternative program'

"Catholicism and Catholic education is not an alternative program offered in a secular school but a world view. We believe Catholic religion courses belong in fully permeated Catholic schools."

There are currently 93,000 students attending public schools in Edmonton, and 41,300 enrolled in Catholic schools in the city.

Janz said he's not thinking about shifting students from Catholic schools to public schools. The idea is is meant to address the children not yet in school, he said.

"There's more than enough new kids coming to Edmonton. We are all under severe growth pressures.

We're going to have to build a lot of new schools for this city and I want to make sure that our first priority is we offer public education to every single child, and every single family, as guaranteed by law."