By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Debbie Engel says 2017 has been her most challenging year as an Edmonton Catholic Schools trustee, but that hasn’t dissuaded her from running for re-election after nearly two decades of service.

So far, Engel is the only declared candidate in Ward 74, which covers a large part of southwest Edmonton. The election will be held on Oct. 16.

“I have the experience. I have the commitment to Catholic education. I’m more aware of the issues and challenges than ever,” said Engel. “And I haven’t lost my enthusiasm since I ran for my first term.”

Engel has been a trustee for nearly 19 years. For 10 of them, she has been either the chair or the vice-chair of the board. Engel also notes that she’s served on each of the ECSD board committees.

“I really see the value of my experience and abilities and I’m ready to face the next challenges.”

Engel said the biggest challenge this year has been the 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.

“There’s never been controversy surrounding Catholic education like there has been in the last four years. These are challenging times because the board was at the centre of the LGBTQ issue,” said Engel.

“We have caring teachers who have been doing what’s right for kids for years, not in spite of being Catholic, but because they are Catholic.” Engel said too often reporters are focused on the “drama” at the ECSD board meetings. 

“We need to focus on the positive rather than negating what we’re doing. Our budget is balanced. Our enrolment is up. Our Provincial Achievement Test results are good. We should be focusing on that.”

The Edmonton Catholic Schools’ $487.6 million budget is balanced. ECSD enrolment in 2016-2017 was 41,333 and the district projects a 3.3% increase to 42,692 by September 2017. 

“Our record speaks for itself. Whether it’s our ESL programs, our academics, looking after our indigenous students, we’re there,” Engel said. “It’s an answer to those saying ‘Let’s get rid of Catholic education.’”

Engel said she’s most proud of the 15 new schools built during her career as a school trustee, as well as keeping Sister Annata Brockman as a kindergarten-to-Grade 9 school and the building of the St. Francis Xavier high school field house. 

“My biggest strength as a trustee is that I’m everywhere, talking about the good things that are being done in Catholic education. I study and know the importance of every nuance and communicate that with some political savvy.”

A mother of two adult daughters, Engel worked for Canada Safeway for 26 years and retired as a training development supervisor. Her husband is also a former teacher.

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

For more information on running for election as a Catholic school trustee, download the ACSTA Trustee Election Guidebook: http://www.acsta.ab.ca/news/2017/5/18/trustee-election-guidebook-2017

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 news@caedm.ca.