Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk suggests teaming up with community organizations can keep schools open

With the issue of urban sprawl in metro areas, including Calgary, what can be done to save inner-city schools from closing?

This was one question posed for MLA candidates during a Tuesday evening forum on education at Bishop Carroll High School.

Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk suggested that an inner-city school doesn’t have to be shut down when a decision is made there is no more justification for keeping one open.

Rather, he asked the crowd of about 70, “What can we turn this school into so it can continue being an asset for the community?”

He suggested that partnering with municipalities and non-profits, such as the YMCA, to have a school also double as a boys’ and girls’ club or seniors’ centre, may be one solution.

The same idea could apply to new schools as well.

“We will not limit ourselves by ideological limitations,” he said. “So your new schools will not only be schools but they will be partnerships with the YMCAs of this world, or other non-for-profit agencies, so a new school can serve the community in many more ways than just being a place for children to learn.”

Lukaszuk was also quick to share the Progressive Conservatives’ campaign promise to build 50 new schools province-wide, as well as retrofit 75 others “over a very short period of time.”

“We do have children where we don’t have schools and vice versa,” he said, “and that is always a difficult issue to resolve from an infrastructure perspective.”

Opposing candidates respond

From left to right, Rob Anderson of the Wildrose, Alberta Party candidate Greg Clark, PC education minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Liberal incumbent Kent Hehr listen in on an education forum question in the gymnasium of Bishop Carroll high school on April 17.
Photo by: Shane Flug
While no other candidate addressed the idea of partnerships between schools and non-for-profits, they were quick to share their own party platform highlights, as well as go on the offensive against the PCs.

“The PC government has been playing poliics with new school builds and upgrades for far so long,” said Rob Anderson, Wildrose Alliance MLA candidate and party education critic.

He said if the Wildrose formed government, they would work with school boards to create an “objective funding formula” based on student population, school conditions, growth projections and other criteria.

“Those requests will be prioritized into a master provincial education capital list,” Anderson said, adding the list would be posted online.

“Education should never be a political football.”

Liberal incumbent Kent Hehr for Calgary-Buffalo, also education critic for his party, questioned how funding for future schools will be built when the Alberta economy relies heavily on oil and gas.

“We see where we shut off the funding when the oil wells dry up. We turn them on again when they go up.”

Hehr also took a moment to criticize the Wildrose Alliance’s promise of the so-called “Danielle Dollars” of handing out $300 to every Albertan.

He said saving for the future is key, saying that the Liberals would get rid of the provincial flat tax.

“A little bit of shared sacrifice will go a long way in this province,” he said.

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Alberta Party candidate Greg Clark was quick to blame the public school system’s “infrastructure deficit” on “41 years of PC mismanagement.”

“We need more planning,” he said. “We need less politics.”

Clark said local boards, along with parents, should be the ones empowered to decide which schools close and where new schools are built.

Despite sent invitations from the Catholic school board of trustees, there were no NDP or EverGreen party candidates present at the forum.

Past doors shut, future ribbons cut

Here in Calgary during the last few years, inner-city schools such as Montgomery, Sir James Lougheed and Sir William Van Horne closed their doors.

Four public middle schools — having a combined maximum capacity of 3,600 students — are anticipated to open in the north suburbs in September, with North West High School in Arbour Lake opening in time for the 2013-2014 school year.

Long bus rides are a reality for some students who live in fringe suburbs. For example, The Calgary Journal reported last fall that public school students living in Auburn Bay sit in school buses for up to an hour and a half during commutes that span between 16-18 kilometres.

Western Canada and Lord Shaughnessy high schools in the southwest are undergoing modernization construction.

In the Catholic district, St. Isabella Elementary and Junior High School on Copperfield Boulevard in the southeast is slated to open in September.

sflug@cjournal.ca