Archbishop Richard Smith
EDMONTON - Edmonton Catholic Schools and Archbishop Richard Smith are working together to end casino funding for education, says the chair of the school board.
"There is no war developing. There never has been a war developing between us and the archbishop," Debbie Engel said in an Oct. 8 interview.
The school district does not oppose the archdiocese's ban on "harmful gambling activities" as a funding source, Engel said. But it needs to find other revenue sources for programs now funded through gambling.
"We want to assure parents that we're not going to take something away when we have nothing with which to replace it."
Smith told the WCR it was "an absolute mystery" how a cordial Oct. 5 meeting between himself and leaders from Edmonton Catholic Schools was transformed into a front page Edmonton Journal story the next day headlined "Gambling ban not in the cards."
The story painted conflict between the school board and the archbishop and said Smith had backed down on an Oct. 1 deadline for schools to stop taking gambling money.
"I've never said to school boards, 'You must be out of casinos by Oct. 1,'" Smith said.
The Oct. 5 meeting was "a first look" at possible strategies for ending reliance on casino funding, he said.
So nonplussed was he by The Journal story that Smith wrote a special item on his blog (archbishopsmith.blogspot.com) which he headlined "Ban not in the cards or facts not in the press?"
Both Smith and Engel said no timeline has been set for ending casino fundraising and any ideas for replacing the funding are currently no more than ideas.
Engel said she made it clear to The Journal "that we were working with the archbishop to find a solution."
She reserved her strongest challenge for the provincial government, which has forced school districts into finding other funding sources to meet basic needs.
"This is not a Catholic issue. It's a societal issue. The whole province is becoming reliant on this. This is a government issue," she said.
"When did it become the job of schools to provide food for children?"
Casino funding has heightened inequities among different districts. In Sherwood Park, schools have used casino revenues to provide heated bleachers in the gym, Engel said. But at Edmonton's inner city St. Catherine's School, it has been used to buy hot lunches and build a playground.
"Yes, we support the bishop," she said. "The policy (against casino fundraising) stands and we're not opposed to it."
But the timeline for implementing the policy needs to be worked out and new funding sources have to be developed.
Smith, she said, "has never done anything to indicate he is not going to work with us."