United Conservative candidate for Airdrie-Cochrane and Rocky View Schools square off
A prominent United Conservative candidate and a southern Alberta school district are accusing each other of spreading misinformation, or at the very least of being very, very mistaken.
During a candidates forum hosted by the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Peter Guthrie, the UCP candidate for Airdrie-Cochrane, said Rocky View Schools "outright lied" to parents, "to tell them that they received nothing in the budget."
Guthrie was referring to a May 9 email to RVS district parents.
The letter does say, "RVS received disappointing news that the Alberta government did not include our division in the school projects approved for 2023 construction funding."
It goes on to say, "RVS was granted design funding for an elementary school in southwest Airdrie and preliminary planning funding for three other schools (new Airdrie high school and new Cochrane and Chestermere elementary schools)."
Guthrie told the forum the school district received its top four asks, referring to the Airdrie, Cochrane and Chestermere schools, in addition to portables and a Bow Valley High School expansion.
"Unfortunately, the Rocky View board and administration decided to play political games and they outright lied when they emailed all parents to tell them that they received nothing in the budget," he said.
"And even when they got called out by our government and the minister of education, they refused to correct the deception."
In response, Rocky View Schools' board chair, Norma Lang, penned a letter to Guthrie requesting he "retract and clarify that RVS did not lie to parents, as there were no construction funding approvals for any of these four projects received for RVS in Budget 2023."
The letter explains, "We stated that 'the Alberta government did not include our division in the school projects approved for 2023 construction funding.' We acknowledged in the same letter that RVS was granted design funding and preliminary planning funding for a total of four projects.
"Your accusation that we lied to parents is not true.
"We were factual in our communication that we received no construction funding in Budget 2023 for these four projects."
In an interview with CTV Calgary, Lang said Guthrie's comments to the forum were "quite shocking."
"We were surprised with his comments and how far he took them," she said.
"We've worked really hard to build relationships and trust with our parents and our staff ... everyone in our community.
"[This is] potentially damaging to our reputation and good word."
Asked if this could all just be a misunderstanding, Lang said maybe.
But Guthrie's comments are "out there" now.
"If he's unclear, and I do leave room for that possibility, there are people in the government and party that could help him," Lang said.
In a statement, Guthrie doubled down.
"The fact of the matter is RVS received their top 4 asks (2 schools in Airdrie, 1 in Chestermere and 1 in Cochrane) in addition to 10 of 19 portables awarded in the entire province. This was a big win for our constituency and our education community," he wrote.
"Parents that reached out to my office for an explanation of the emailed information regarding awarded resources were not pleased when they found out their Superintendent Greg Luderbach and Board Chair Norma Lang were not forthcoming with all available and accurate information.
"Now that the inaccuracies of the RVS communication have been shown, they should take responsibility for the misleading correspondence to parents."
Alberta's New Democrats have since put out a release promising more school construction in Airdrie and Cochrane, if the party makes it back to power in Monday's provincial election.
"The Alberta NDP is committing to a historic school building program in Airdrie, including the construction of a new 900-student capacity K-8 school and a 1,500-student capacity high school through the Rocky View Schools division in the southwest, and a 600 capacity K-9 through the Calgary Catholic School District in the southeast," the NDP said in its release.
"The Alberta NDP is also committing to building a new 600-student capacity K-5 school in Cochrane, where RVS notes that the student population is increasing by 300 students annually, requiring a new school to be built every two to three years.
"Rocky View Schools division estimates that they will surpass a 100 per cent utilization rate by 2026, meaning every space in classrooms will be occupied during the mandate of the next government."