GUELPH — Catholic education is "under attack" and the next provincial election is the time to do battle, says the chair of the Wellington Catholic District School Board.
In his inaugural address at its monthly board meeting, Marino Gazzola urged members of the gallery to make Catholic education a priority in the election.
"Even though we have a 170-year history in Ontario, there are calls for one system," Gazzola said, at the Jan 13 session. "We continue to fight these battles."
Gazzola said the Green party has been calling for one education system, as has the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, and that's enough to put him on the defensive.
"It's not enough to say Catholic education is a constitutional right. We need to show that Catholic education is important and make this a priority. The three main parties say they are for Catholic education. We need to ensure they keep to that," Gazzola said.
Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green party of Ontario, said in an interview that Catholic education is not under attack.
"We are not saying Catholic schools should close," Schreiner said. "We are saying we need fiscally responsible schools. We want to see financial resources maximized in the classroom."
Schreiner said he wants to take the best of the Catholic and the best of the public systems and merge them together into a single French and English publically-funded school system. He said it could save $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year by ending duplication in administration, busing and buildings.
Schreiner said the Catholic school system has strong values around community service and social justice and those are positive qualities for children to be exposed to. But other value-based education systems, like Waldorf schools, and other religious schools, are not funded through the tax base.
"Is that fair?" he asked. "We're seeing neighbourhood schools closing and students being bused far away to attend school. Is that financially prudent?
"This is a conversation that needs to happen."
Ontario actually has four publically-funded education systems: English-public, French-public, English-Catholic, and French-Catholic.
"Ontario's Catholic schools are valued education partners, and we will continue to respect the constitution when it comes to our separate school system," wrote Minister of Education and Guelph MPP Liz Sandals in an e-mail.
"We are committed to supporting all four publicly funded school systems in Ontario to ensure our students succeed."