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Winnipeg School Division wards may be revamped

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EDUCATION Minister Nancy Allan is hinting she might like the idea of more, smaller wards in the Winnipeg School Division -- and the issue may land in her lap by Aug. 1.

A petition from community activists to demand the division switch to nine wards of a single trustee each has prompted division trustees to form an ad hoc committee to study whether there will be major changes for the October 2014 election.

That committee is on a collision course with an impending deadline that could leave the decision in Allan's hands.

"It's exciting to see parents getting involved, wanting to get more representation. You would like to see that democracy is representative of all people," Allan said.

"There is a process when it can come to the minister -- I can refer it to the board of reference.

Here's where timing gets tricky.

"I think it's possible" the committee could study the issue and recommend making changes in time for the election, if that's the recommendation, trustee Suzanne Hrynyk said in late June.

But the committee has yet to meet and likely won't do so before the fall, Hrynyk said.

That makes July 31 a key date, three months to the day after the division received the petition demanding changes to ward boundaries.

Allan's officials said, "School divisions are responsible for changing ward boundaries, the number of wards and number of trustees. If the division decides to make a change, it passes a bylaw, which is approved by the minister of education."

But if there's no action within three months, the residents who made the request can appeal to Allan to get involved.

The board of reference is a provincial body chaired by former public school superintendent Alex Boyce, which usually rules on matters in which property owners wish to be transferred to a neighbouring school division.

Officials said if the school board "failed to act within three months of the request or decides not to enact the requested changes, those same electors could request the minister to review the matter and the minister may (but does not have to) refer it to the board of reference.

"If it were referred, the board would hold a public hearing and decide upon a course of action, which could include a reconfiguration of ward boundaries and the number of trustees in each ward," provincial officials said.

Allan is already keeping a close eye on WSD because of complaints about secrecy and the school board's penchant for doing much of its business behind closed doors.

"We will be having conversations with Winnipeg School Division," Allan said -- which leaves the ward boundaries situation abounding with irony and likely setting off alarm bells for the trustees awaiting Allan's displeasure.

Hrynyk is unsure when the ad hoc committee will meet or how much of its business, if any, will be conducted in public.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2013 B3

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