By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Barb Duteau has volunteered to help elect Catholic school trustees in her northeast Edmonton ward.

Now she’s considering becoming a candidate herself.

“The biggest issue, I think is relevancy … We have to show that it’s important, because we are distinct from other educational choices,” said Duteau, who is weighing a bid for trustee against family commitments. 

“I want to see good candidates who care about children and care about the school system and keeping it Catholic.”

Duteau is among the potential candidates who attended an Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association information session May 11 at St. Brendan School in Edmonton. The sessions are a chance to learn about the roles and responsibilities of being a Catholic school trustee, and include a presentation by ACSTA officials, administrators and the local bishop.

Archbishop Richard Smith called Catholic schools “an extraordinary treasure” and a part of the Church’s mission, noting trustees have a responsibility to both the province and the Church.

School trustees govern and create policy independently and, the ACSTA says, the goal is to have better prepared candidates across Alberta on Election Day, Oct. 16.

“One of the biggest challenges we have right now is apathy,” said John Tomkinson, vice-president of the ACSTA, noting trusteeship – although it’s part-time – is a big commitment. 

“It’s not just one meeting a month. You sign up for that because it’s a call to service. You’re called to service by Christ to give back to the families and those around us,” said Tomkinson, a two-term St. Thomas Aquinas Schools trustee from Wetaskiwin.

“When your community bestows upon you the role, responsibility and honour of guiding the education of hundreds or tens of thousands of children, depending on the board and jurisdiction, it’s not an easy job.”

Catholic education has come under fire. This week, the Red Deer public school board voted to lobby the Alberta government to create a single school system. A former education minister and an Edmonton public school trustee have floated the same idea, and a Saskatchewan judge ruled that their government must stop funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools.

There can also be internal challenges.

 “It’s a really tough job, but I’m going to be honest with you, I absolutely love it,” said Debbie Engel, a 19-year trustee with Edmonton Catholic Schools, which has had to deal with “infighting” on its board. 

Kara Pelech, a former Edmonton Catholic trustee, said she’s considering running again in her southeast ward.

Her advice to candidates: “Sit back and see the dynamics that are at play right now and just ask yourself, ‘If I was sitting in that position, how I would do it differently? What kinds of gifts do I have?’ ”

The next ACSTA information sessions are on May 25 at St. Paul’s Parish in Fort McMurray, on June 7 at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Grande Prairie, and on June 8 in Calgary at Prince of Peace School.

The ACSTA represents 23 school divisions and 153 trustees, who in turn serve more than 130,000 students. For more information, log on to the ACSTA website,