Board discusses Catholic secondary education options

The Northwest Catholic District School Board discussed the possibility of expanding its religious education course at the high school level at its regular meeting last night.
The board currently offers night classes in religious education in Fort Frances and Dryden. The course requires no prerequisite and is an approved high school credit of 110 hours.
The possibility of extending those courses, including perhaps establishing a Catholic high school, had been discussed at length at the committee of the whole meeting in September.
At the time, trustees defeated a motion to establish a new committee to look into the possibility of extending secondary religious education classes, but approved a motion to authorize the board’s administration to investigate the provision of daytime religious education programs in public high schools.
After speaking with directors of the Rainy River District School Board and the Keewatin/Patricia District School Board, administration determined that the religious education course could be offered during the regular day classes.
But the option would have financial implications for the board.
“The co-terminus boards have indicated that the viability of any credit course offered at the high school level is dependent upon the number of students enrolled in the course,” Superintendent of Education Al Cesiunas and Director of Education Laurie Bizero wrote in their report to the board.
“If the day course is offered and the enrolment is below the target number of 15, the board would be required to make some type of financial compensation to the co-terminus board[s],” the report continued.
Dryden trustee John Borst expressed concern that students taking religious education courses in the daytime would be taught by public teachers instead of Catholic ones, and that the courses would be under the auspices of the public board rather than the NCDSB.
“I don’t think it’s even worth pursuing this, quite frankly,” he said.
Rather, Borst suggested the board continue to offer religious education courses at night as continuing education until another solution could be found.
“The question is, can a student be on the register at two boards?” asked Superintendent of Business Chris Howarth. “I’m not sure it’s a bridge that’s been crossed before.”
Howarth added he’s waiting for information from the Ministry of Education regarding the issue.
“It gets very complicated. I apologize for what I think is a waste of administration’s time,” Borst said.
“You have to give us a little bit of time before you rule this out,” countered Howarth. “I don’t consider it a waste of time. It’s worth pursuing.”
The board agreed to defer the matter until its next meeting so that administration could gather more information.
Also at last night’s meeting, the Catholic board reviewed its enrolment numbers as of Oct. 31, 2004.
The board has a total of 1,527 students, or 1,379 FTE (full-time equivalent) students enrolled at its five schools. That’s an increase of 34 students, or 30.5 FTE, over the numbers for June 30, 2003.
“You hear a good deal about declining population across our north. I think it’s significant that we appear to be holding our own,” Borst said.
“We have a brand new school next door [J.W. Walker School] that could have had an impact on St. Francis School, but enrolment at St. Francis is basically up,” noted Fort Frances trustee Harold Huntley.
Enrolment at St. Francis sits at 304 this year, compared to 301 in June.
“I give credit to our teachers and the whole support system we have in place. It speaks well to the confidence parents have in our schools,” he added.
Also at last night’s meeting, the board passed its second-annual accessibility plan, in which it identified what improvements need to be made to schools to improve accessibility for the disabled.
The board’s next meeting is slated for Saturday, Dec. 4 in Dryden.