Two days after Education Minister Dave Hancock met with board members from Greater St. Albert Regional Catholic Division No. 29 (GSACRD), it came out that one of the commitments made to the minister was GSACRD would conduct an impartial survey of Morinville parents as to the extent of interest in secular education.
In some ways asking a Catholic school division to ask if people are interested in a non Catholic education is like asking McDonald’s to survey their customers to see if they might really prefer Burger King or Wendy’s hamburgers. But GSACRD is not a fast food chain, it is a school division and one with public status, a situation the minister and the school board felt necessitated the survey.
Just how and when that survey will take shape remains to be seen, but given the cuts in education GSACRD and other divisions throughout the province are experiencing in the post 2011-2012 budget era, it would be a shame for even a few thousand dollars to be diverted from the classroom.
Earlier this month, Morinville Town Councillor Lisa Holmes made a motion to have the Town of Morinville act as mediators to host an open discussion on the secular issue for all concerned. That motion was defeated because only three of Morinville’s seven-member council felt the issue was a Town issue. Mayor Bertschi and Councillors Boddez, Pattison and Krauskopf felt the issue was between the school board and the province. While arguments can be made for both sides of that position, the Town of Morinville now has a great opportunity to assist with the progress of resolving this issue and – of equal importance – ensuring that the true picture of the need or lack thereof for secular education is obtained without cutting another notch in an already tight education budget belt.
Morinville will be conducting a census in May, a counting of municipal heads that parallels the federal census but which gives the Town a one-year jump on getting more federal and provincial grant dollars. Morinville has employed Pivotal Research to conduct an online census to be followed up with some good old fashioned door knocking for those who do not complete the information online.
Although the Town of Morinville is not expanding the census to include information on religious affiliation and ethnicity, what better way to resolve this issue that has caused a town divided than to add a rider to the census to determine what GSACRD has committed to the minister to do?
There is certainly some precedent for collaboration between bodies on surveys. Last year Sturgeon County conducted an elaborate needs assessment survey of its residents’ thoughts on community facilities. Morinville was able to piggyback on that data collection for approximately $5,000, a fraction of what Sturgeon County paid. The same could be done for GSACRD ‘s survey.
Offering the school board an opportunity to have a rider on the upcoming census could save the division some dollars, just as cooperation with Sturgeon County saved Morinville money while allowing it to gather important data about how it stands in the eyes of residents.
Regardless of how residents feel on the schools issue – and opinions on both sides are passionate – the fact remains the Minister of Education has acknowledged the right of parents wanting secular education.
What is now of critical importance is determining just how many parents are of like minds and delivering a service that respects the needs of those parents and their children in the most cost effective and fiscally responsible manner possible.