Call for change on Edmonton Catholic school board

By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Lisa Turchansky says she could no longer sit back and watch the “dysfunction” of the Edmonton Catholic School Board play out in the media, so she decided to do something about it.

“I really think it’s time for a change,” said Turchansky, who is running for election as school trustee for Ward 76 in the city’s southwest. “I’m really frustrated about defending faith, especially when the board is constantly in the news. It’s crazy and unfortunate.”

Turchansky said the deciding factor was the bitter debate among trustees that began in May 2015, with a mother’s fight over school washroom accommodations for her seven-year-old transgender child. It escalated into arguments over the belief that one’s gender is the result of personal discernment or social construction, versus the Catholic understanding that it is rooted in the individual’s biological sex.

“It’s fairly cumulative frustration, but the last straw was the LGBTQ issue,” Turchansky said.

“It seemed like there was someone else’s agenda to make massive changes. I had a number of parents tell me that this went so far beyond where it needed to be. It went beyond where children are going to the bathroom and finding a practical solution to that.”

Turchansky said: “We need a trustee who can defend Catholic education, focus on the students and represent us well.”

“I’ve been frustrated for a couple of years,” she said. “Every time there’s something negative about the board in the paper, it’s a new opportunity for critics to say that there should be one school board. The biggest threat to Catholic education is the dysfunction of the board.”

However, the incumbent Ward 76 trustee, Marilyn Bergstra, said “there’s a difference between dysfunction and a having an opinion different than someone else’s.”

“I don’t think I’ve lost my focus. Every one of the current trustees has a focus and mine is health. Faith is important to me and so is management and education outcomes.”

Bergstra hasn’t decided if she’ll stand for re-election.

In May, she was removed as vice-chair of the Edmonton Catholic school board, and trustee Patricia Grell was reprimanded, over controversial statements regarding the religion course requirements for a student’s commencement ceremony.

“Some current [trustees] have lost their focus on Catholic education,” Turchansky said. “They have stopped representing many families in favour of their personal agendas. It continues. It’s become personality driven and not focused on promoting the Catholic faith in schools.”

But Bergstra said she’s “never said ‘No’ to religion. I absolutely agree with religion in schools but I don’t think we should encourage religion to be a consequence of graduation.”

Turchansky is quick to add that she’s not running as a protest vote.

A mother of two girls aged 12 and 9, Turchansky was the chairman of the parent council at St. Mary Elementary School for five years, and prior to that she was a member of the parent council at St. Monica Elementary School. She is a member of St. Thomas More Parish, and co-owns Battery World with her husband.

“It certainly gives me a different perspective,” Turchansky said. “Being part of the school I can see what’s needed. And as I business owner can see the big picture.

“I had a number of friends suggest that I run. They said ‘You can’t just complain. You need to do something about it’,” said Turchansky, nothing she’s received a “quiet groundswell” of support since she began campaigning before Christmas.

If elected, Turchansky hopes the board will refocus on its mission.

“I hope to have the board fly under the radar. Change can be great, especially in this instance. People want it.”

The deadline for nominations in the upcoming school and municipal elections is Sept. 18.

For more information on running for election as a Catholic school trustee, download the ACSTA Trustee Election Guidebook.

If you have decided to run for a seat as a Catholic school trustee in any of the 10 school districts in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, we’d like to hear from you. Contact