Catholic school boards look to fundraise $250K for appeal of ruling on non-Catholic students

The Saskatoon Catholic School Boards Association is passing around a collection basket to appeal a ruling that bars the provincial government from funding non-Catholic students in Catholic schools.

Public Schools of Saskatchewan thinks Sask. gov't should help pay both sides' legal costs

Schools under some of the Catholic association's eight school boards recently sent students home with letters asking parents to pledge money for an appeal of a court ruling.

The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association is passing around a collection basket to raise $250,000 for the costly legal fight over provincial funding of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools.

In April, a Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled that the Saskatchewan government should no longer pay for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools. 

Schools under some of the Catholic association's eight school boards recently sent students home with letters asking parents to pledge money for an appeal of the ruling. A donation page has also been launched on the association's website.

"We are confident that there certainly will be people that will be very supportive to this campaign," said Ken Loehndorf, the association's' executive director.

"To what extent, we're not certain. But I personally have been contacted by people who said they'd be happy to contribute to the campaign."

$15,000 out of $250,000 raised so far

As of Wednesday, around $15,000 of the desired $250,000 had been pledged, according to Loehndorf.

The latter figure represents an estimate from the association's law firm for how much the appeal — and an expected final round in the Supreme Court — will cost the association in legal fees.

The remainder that isn't raised during the campaign will ultimately come from the school budgets of the eight boards, as there is no reserve fund for court cases, said Loehndorf.

"The hope is that as little as possible will be needed from school division budgets," he said.

Gov't not funding either side

Public Schools of Saskatchewan doesn't have a reserve fund, either. But it's not going after public donations.

"We've considered it. We haven't decided to do that," said Larry Huber, the executive director of the public association.

Huber cited two misgivings about fundraising.

For one thing, he said the provincial government should be helping foot both the public and Catholic sides' legal bills, especially in light of the cost cutting in the most recent provincial budget.

"The cost situation for boards meeting their budget need has gotten even more difficult, so it's significantly more difficult for public schools, and Catholic schools, to fund litigation," he said.

The public association met with Justice Minister Gordon Wyant and Education Minister Don Morgan earlier this week to make that demand — the third such meeting in the last year.

"All I can tell you is [they] didn't give us a definite no," said Huber of the most recent meeting.

But in an emailed statement to CBC News, Saskatchewan's education department said, "Education funding should be directed towards the classroom and not the courtroom.

"Boards of education across this province continue to be treated fairly and equitably and the government is providing no additional funding to the boards, public or Catholic, as it pertains to this litigation."

'A divisive dimension'

The other fear Huber says the public association has with fundraising is that it might lend an "us-against-them" vibe to the court proceeding.

"We took this on because we're not against the Catholic system, all we're concerned with was whether they should be getting full funding for non-Catholics attending Catholic schools.

"And so when you get into this kind of one system fundraising in opposition to the court case with the other one, there's kind of a divisive dimension to that."

Cases costs so far, timeline 

The costs for the case, which stretches back more than a decade, have already piled up for both sides.

Huber says the public boards have spent around $3 million while Loehndorf of the Catholic association estimates its boards have spent about $1.3 million.

The estimated cost to public schools for the upcoming appeal alone is $250,000, according to Huber.

As for when the appeal will actually land in court, Loehndorf says the Catholic association's lawyers have told him it might not be until spring 2018, with a resulting decision then taking "some time" to be issued.

"We've been told anywhere between three and five years to play this thing out completely at the Supreme Court level," said Loehndorf.