PHOTOS: The Trinity Christian private school in Cold Lake. Court documents indicate its principal was paid $322,813 over three years. One news report says it currently has 13 students. Below: Ken Noster, board chair and administrator of Wisdom Home Schooling Society, his wife Marlane Noster, and Trinity School principal Richard Schienbein. All photos come from the two enterprises’ websites.

The Wildrose Opposition’s impassioned defence of a private Christian school association that oversaw about a third of the province’s home-schooled children and the entity it hired to oversee the work is unravelling like an old sweater caught on a nail – exposing the hapless ’Rosies to a wintry Alberta breeze.

And the nail on which their sweater snagged? It was the revelation this week that the two extended families running the Trinity Christian School Association and the Wisdom Home Schooling Society, which directly and indirectly receive per-student public funding from the province, took personal pay of almost $3 million over three years.

Ken Noster, the board chair and administrator of Wisdom, was paid nearly $300,000 a year, more than the superintendents of the vast majority of Alberta school districts. His pay totalled $863,882 over three years, court documents showed. His wife Marlane Noster and several of their children brought in roughly another $1 million in salaries over the same period.

Meanwhile, Richard Schienbein, principal of Trinity Christian School in Cold Lake, which one news report said currently has 13 students, was paid $322,813 over the three years, with several members of his family being compensated to the tune of $1.06 million over the same period, some for unspecified duties.

Market fundamentalist parties like the Wildrose Opposition and the Progressive Conservative rump in the Legislature love private schools, charter schools, home schools or any other dubious venture in pedagogy on the principle they can be used to undermine public education and weaken teachers’ unions.

So in late October, when Alberta’s NDP Government withdrew funding and accreditation from Trinity and Wisdom, run by members of the Noster and Schienbein families from the hamlet of Derwent, the two conservative opposition parties pretty much screamed socialism, communism and the end of civilization as we know it.

Education Minister David Eggen’s move followed an audit that indicated the two related family enterprises had inappropriately diverted funds from government per-student grants and withheld school expense money from parents to whom it should have been passed on. The financial review also indicated 32 per cent of Trinity’s and Wisdom’s expenses went to office and administration, compared with 3.4 to 5.6 per cent at public school boards.

Wisdom kept $988,000 over three years that should have been given to parents to help finance their children’s education, the Globe and Mail reported on Oct. 25. The audit concluded that some of the money had been spent on gifts, babysitting, a funeral, travel and food.

But in a Nov. 2 fund-raising email headlined “sticking up for parents,” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean huffed that, “since taking office, the NDP government has slowly chipped away at parental rights in our school system.” Unless this is a reference to interference with the right of parents to teach their children it’s OK to bully members of sexual minorities, there is very little evidence of any such thing since the election of the NDP in May 2015.

Nevertheless, Mr. Jean went on to say: “The latest example came last week when the Education Minister abruptly shut down the Trinity Christian School without any regard for the major disruption this caused in the lives of 3,500 students enrolled in the Wisdom home education program.”

In his email, Mr. Jean also reaffirmed Wildrose’s oft-repeated pledge to support “parental rights,” no matter what parents choose to teach their children, and asked recipients to chip in $10, $20 or even $50 to the party’s coffers.

Jason Kenney, meanwhile, the former Harper cabinet minister now campaigning to “unite the right” by excluding all moderates from the PC Party’s once big tent, was floating a bizarre conspiracy theory that the NDP is trying to indoctrinate public school students in “collectivist ideas.” He also complained that Trinity students’ parents had been unfairly “blindsided” by the government’s effort to safeguard the public’s money.

The day before Mr. Jean emailed out his fund-raiser, Trinity went to court in Grande Prairie and succeeded in getting a temporary injunction allowing it to continue to operate, although without receiving any more public money. This was hailed as a huge victory by the conservative online anger machine at the time. The matter is now scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 5, 2017.

But it was documents filed with the court in Grande Prairie that contained the explosive financial statistics – among them, a breakdown of $2.8 million in salaries over the three years.

How the Wildrosers will try to spin these embarrassing circumstances to prove the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector remains to be seen, but, for the moment, party spokespeople are backpedalling hard to get away from the embarrassment.

The salaries are … “concerning,” said Wildrose Finance critic and social media attack dog Derek Fildebrandt. “We still continue to have strong concerns about the sudden shutdown, the way it was done,” he told the national broadcaster. “The way this left students out in the cold.”

It is worth noting that no student was left out in the cold – literally or figuratively – by the government’s action.

All in all, this was not a good week for the Wildrose Opposition, which also had to cope with undeniable evidence Premier Rachel Notley’s “social license” approach to getting pipelines works far better than the traditional conservative tactic shouting at and bullying opponents.

The first positive results on this file in a decade were not good enough for Mr. Jean, though. Only proof that all opposition to all pipelines has been silenced is good enough, he told the Edmonton Journal. “If we have any protesters whatsoever it’s obvious the social licence should be rejected because this is not something that should form part of the decision-making,” he said.

Notwithstanding their constant squealing about the tyranny of “hysterical political correctness,” respect for free expression does not appear to be found in the Alberta opposition’s strategy manual any more.

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  1. “If we have any protesters whatsoever it’s obvious the social licence should be rejected because this is not something that should form part of the decision-making.”

    Since I’ve not experienced the benefits of either home schooling or private education, perhaps Mr. Jean could use the comments platform in Alberta Politics to clarify for us bumpkins in comprehensible English what the heck he’s talking about.

    1. I’ve noticed in my daily monitoring of Sun newspapers that there is nary a word about the pipelines… no letters to the editor for or against and barely any commentary. It’s almost like they were caught blind sided.

      I see that the Postmedia comments have shifted from attacking Trudeau to attacking would-be protestors… gotta keep that rage machine going somehow.

  2. I suppose Brian Jean has a keen sense of his political core supporters. People who are still mad at Darwin and fear the uncontrollable diversity of the public school world. So that would be at least thirteen families. Plus the grouchy Harper base with their authoritarian tendencies. That crew might shift in droves to Jason Kenney and leave Wildrose scraping for votes and funds. The funds in question would be oil industry dollars, of course, not pennies from the piggy banks from Albertans Who Don’t Boil Water With Science.

    The Wildrose party has to try harder if they plan to have more than accidental success in the next election.

  3. The whole world is beginning to sound like various Sinclair Lewis novels. The U.S. election is “It Can’t Happen Here” and this “Christian” lot are straight out of “Elmer Gantry”. What a bunch of scuzzballs! (Excuse my elegant language.)

    Ah, Mr. Fildebrandt is at it again. Being left out in the cold (go and play outside, dears!) would have been a much better option for these young people than being force fed homophobic toxic sludge.

    Ah, dear Li’l Jason has taken another hit.

    In this article from Press Progress – Mr. Climenhaga gets a shout out for one of his posts – Kenney’s No Good Very Bad Week was outlined and the week had barely started.

    It’s only Tuesday and Jason Kenney’s week is already a complete mess

    I am so upset.

    1. Thanks for posting the link, Filostrato, I enjoyed reading the post. Unfortunately there is a slight error in the article, however. Mr. Climenhaga’s blog is called Alberta Politics, not Alberta Report. For those of us who can remember 8 track tapes, Alberta Report was a failed right wing news magazine published in the 70s and 80s by Ted Byfield.

      1. Bob Raynard makes a good point about the name of my blog. Earlier today, as it happened, I had sent the following note to Press progress:

        It’s only Friday and I just got around to reading the “It’s Only Tuesday And …” story on Press Progress.

        It’s a great story, but there is one rather amusing error.

        Alberta Report, of course, was Ted Byfield’s rather out-there right-wing publication for most of its existence – it started out as St. John’s Edmonton Report and ended up as Western Report before it went broke, as I recall.

        I am going to admit to you that I have long been a secret admirer of the elder Mr. Byfield. He is one of the few who knew the right formula for writing a column – to wit, 700 to 1,000 words, a beginning, a middle and an end, which must reach a strong conclusion. He also knew how to generate remarkable amounts of self-publicity.

        That said, those admirable qualities notwithstanding, my blog is not Alberta Report.

        Best change this in case the Byfield Clan gets wind of it and comes after me for plagiarism.



  4. Almost forgot (and probably should have) but the male head of the Noster family is probably known by the younger members as Pater, right?

    I’ll go away now.

  5. Thanks for reminding me once again why I did not even consider voting Wildrose in the last election. And why I won’t in the next one either. I was wrong in thinking that Brian Jean’s comments were half baked. I was giving him far too much credit. Same with Fildebtandt.

    They are making it so easy for Kenney. Unfortuneately.

  6. Last time you covered this issue there was a wave of disagreement in the comments. It was obvious even to those of us educated in the public system someone had organized it. I am amused at how quiet they are now that these salaries have been revealed.

  7. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the RCMP investigation.

    The more scrutiny of these schools from both a fiscal and a standards perspective the better. In the past, the Ministry has been too loosey goosey for purely political reasons.

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