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Education minister pushes for local solution to secular education issue

Newly minted education minster Thomas Lukaszuk is hopeful a permanent resolution to the secular education issue can be found without having to use census results that have been slow in coming.

Newly minted education minster Thomas Lukaszuk is hopeful a permanent resolution to the secular education issue can be found without having to use census results that have been slow in coming.

Lukaszuk said yesterday responses to a census, which was announced in September and distributed in October, have been pretty minimal with less than 20 per cent of the surveys being returned.

"Their response has basically been gathered, but nowhere near the number of people that we were hoping to have participated in this process have participated."

The census asked residents to identify their religion as Catholic, Protestant or other. It was meant to determine who was the minority faith group in the area.

Lukaszuk said reminder letters are going out to homes that haven't returned the survey, but he is hopeful the census results won't actually prove necessary to solving the issue.

He is hoping a meeting he has scheduled for next week with local school boards will help resolve the issue.

"I think if we approach this subject properly the census may actually be irrelevant. We can find a solution that works for everybody for the benefit of the kids."

In most of the province Catholics are the minority faith group and usually compose the separate school board.

In St. Albert, Morinville and Legal, because Catholic schools were the first to be established, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools is the public school board and the protestant board is the separate school board.

The issue was brought to the fore last year after several Morinville parents raised concerns about the lack of secular education in that community, where the Catholic board operates all the schools. The Sturgeon School Division is now operating a secular school in Morinville on the Catholic division's behalf.

When the former minister Dave Hancock announced the census, he said he was looking for a longer-term solution to the issue, because parents in Morinville were still electing trustees only to a Catholic school board.

Meeting set

Lukaszuk said he hopes next week's meeting will find a permanent fix. He said he always favours local solutions to these kinds of issues, rather than ones imposed on the community by the province.

"They know the problem, the anatomy of the problem, the history of the problem, the feelings of parents and students better than I do in the legislature," he said. "A solution that you will arrive at, even though not ideal to anybody, will be better than me super-imposing a solution upon them."

Lukazuk said the issue is pulling attention from the classroom where he would rather see the focus pointed.

"My bottom line always will be children in the classroom and what creates the best education experience for children in the classroom."

He said he knows it is a complicated issue, but solving it will allow administrators and trustees to get their focus back squarely on educational issues.

"I don't want to understate the complexity of the issue, but that is an adult issue and we need to solve that adult issue so our children can have the best education possible."

Lauri-Ann Turnbull, chair of the Catholic board, said she welcomes the chance to talk over the issue with the new education minister.

"It would be a good chance to get to know him and hear his perspective," she said. "We can always come to solutions. I think it is going to take a lot of work and we are up to that job."

Protestant chair Joan Trettler said she will go into the meeting with an open mind, but it is hard to comment on a meeting that hasn't happened.

"I have no idea how that would unfold. I think until we see what might happen it is very much up in the air."

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