Catholic board debates high school

Catholic secondary education was a topic of much debate at the regular monthly meeting of the Northwest Catholic District School Board on Tuesday night.
The board eventually defeated a motion by Dryden trustee John Borst to direct administration to meet with representatives of a group interested in making Catholic secondary education a reality for students in the areas it serves.
Northwest Catholics for Completion had sent a letter to the board asking for its co-operation in the research of “affordable and viable options” for offering Catholic secondary education to students.
“In order to complete our review in the most efficient and effective manner, we hope that we can count on the support of the board,” reads the letter, which was signed by NCFC member Tom McKay.
“The use of some board resources and access to pertinent data and contacts will assist the committee in completing the task in a comprehensive manner,” he added.
The letter also said the group would survey parents and students to determine the level of interest, and to examine “what financial and moral support is available for this project.”
“They want to do some of the legwork that the board has not, to this date, done,” Borst said. “They want to work with the board instead of outside the board.
“I think they’re going to save us money, ultimately, and save us work and time,” he added. “I think it’s worth it, but I’m a little biased here because I support [Catholic] secondary schools.”
According to the NCFC’s website, Borst is, in fact, the “volunteer executive director” of the group, as well as one of four founding committee members.
“Northwest Catholics for Completion is the brainchild of trustee John Borst,” the website reads.
“I’m just going to play devil’s advocate here, but if your motion gets defeated, does that mean we’re totally not talking about secondary for the rest of the year?” board chairman Gerry Rousseau asked Borst.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the last few months, but I don’t think we have the support of the whole board,” he added.
Borst replied the board had created “confusion and discomfort in the minds of administration” regarding secondary education because the board itself is split on the issue.
Passing the motion would make senior administration more comfortable with exploring all possible options and meeting with groups like NCFC. Borst himself has been spending time researching different options and possible costs involved.
“I’m getting way ahead of them and I don’t think that’s good,” Borst said. “In that sense, I’m causing stress for them. And I’m not going to stop. I’ve got the skills, I’ve got the time.
“If it takes me three years to educate everybody on this board, that’s what I’m going to do. It isn’t going to go away, even if I leave the board,” he stressed.
Fort Frances trustee Anne Marie Fitzgerald said she was uncomfortable with what the letter seemed to be asking for. “It’s like loaning the services of our administration out to help this group,” she remarked.
Dryden trustee Robert vanOort, who also is vice-chair of the board, said he was “troubled” by some aspects of the letter.
“In a nutshell, Catholics for Completion is a lobby group. I kind of question if we would be setting a precedent by partnering with a lobby group,” he warned.
Sioux Lookout trustee Cathy Bowen said the group was offering its services to gather information and determine how many people would be willing to send their children to a Catholic high school.
“If these people are willing to come and do it, I don’t see why we should turn that down,” she said.
Bowen also said she would like to see a survey done of parents to determine how many would consider enrolling their children.
But vanOort said it was important to determine if the project is economically and geographically feasible before discussing options with the community.
“It’s almost like saying to your kids, ‘Would you like a new Nintendo?’ They say ‘Yes,’ then you look at the bank account and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have the money,’” he reasoned.
He noted the NCFC was welcome to request permission to make a presentation to the board at a later meeting, outlining its intentions.
First Nations rep Ralph Bruyere said he was opposed to the motion, arguing it would put pressure on administration to meet with members of NCFC.
“They have the right to do this on their own if they want to do it,” he said.
Bruyere added the question of the board establishing a Catholic high school was moot.
“I’ve been on this board a long time. I’ve heard this same issue come up a number of times. It was never feasible, and I don’t know why it would be today,” he remarked.
The board voted 5-2 against the motion. However, Rousseau said the NCFC still was welcome to request time to make a presentation to the board.
Also Tuesday night, the board heard a verbal update from Superintendent of Business Chris Howarth on discussions with the board’s two coterminous public boards—the Rainy River District School Board and the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board—on offering Catholic secondary courses in their schools.
Four options were investigated, Howarth said.
The first would have the public boards offer the courses themselves. But according to the Education Act of Ontario, public boards are forbidden from offering religious courses.
The second option involved the Catholic board using space in a public high school and hiring its own teacher to offer religious education courses. The problem, Howarth explained, was that the public board would lose grant money.
The board receives government funding based on the number of full-time and part-time students attending the high school. For a student to be considered full-time, he or she must be enrolled in at least three of four possible courses.
If a student had one spare, and were enrolled in the separate board’s religious education course, they would become a part-time student at the public board—and the board would lose funding accordingly.
The third option involved offering religious education at a public high school as a continuing education course during the day. But the same problems arise as in option #2.
The fourth option involved offering continuing education courses after the regular school day. The courses could begin as early as 3:30 p.m., although there potentially could be a conflict with extra-curricular activities.
“Both public boards would agree to this [last] option,” Howarth said.
Currently, the local Catholic board offers a continuing education course in religious studies for secondary students in the evenings at its office here in Fort Frances as well as in Dryden.