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Open-door policy on hot issues advised

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WITH hot-button issues galore facing Winnipeg School Division, it might be a good time to deal with them in public, trustee Mark Wasyliw said Thursday.

If WSD keeps doing its business behind closed doors, "we're going to be so disconnected from the public," said Wasyliw, the board's vice-chairman.

Business before Winnipeg School Division trustees:

-- How to regulate recorded votes

-- ward boundaries

-- political access to schools and students

-- how to negotiate senior managers' salaries

"There are people who want to see school boards disappear," and WSD won't have the support it needs if it keeps shutting out the public, he said Thursday.

Trustee Mike Babinsky has raised concerns over how the division sets salaries for senior managers. For a decade or so, their wage increases have been tied to increases teachers bargain.

Wasyliw said that issue will go to a committee meeting Monday evening, and the board's committee meetings are all heard behind closed doors.

It will probably go through a committee for further study, Wasyliw said, which is what he thinks will also happen to a motion from trustee Suzanne Hrynyk to set a policy for allowing politicians into schools.

That issue raised quite the kerfuffle a few weeks ago when federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's staff apparently invited the media to cover his visit to Sisler High School without running it by the principal or the division.

Wasyliw predicted the board will want a report from staff on how other divisions handle political access to students, but trustees' subsequent discussions should be open to the public.

Babinsky also has a motion Monday evening on yet another controversy -- a board bylaw that requires a majority of trustees to be in favour of taking a recorded vote before one can be taken.

A recorded vote is one in which the minutes show how each person voted. A show of hands simply shows whether a motion is passed or rejected. The current bylaw does allow trustees to have their opposition noted in the minutes but leaves it up to a majority to decide if all the yeas and nays will go into the public record.

Babinsky said this week he would like all three readings of his bylaw proposal to go ahead Monday night. Again, a majority decides if there is more than one reading per meeting, and there won't be another board meeting until September.

"He's going to need majority support," Wasyliw said. "Normally, controversial issues don't get rushed through. By the third (reading), trustees have canvassed on the issue."

This issue is "touchy," said Wasyliw, who'd like to know what constituents have to say, and expects other trustees will feel the same way. But he also believes the public should have access to trustees' discussions.

Finally, the board has created an ad hoc committee on ward boundaries.

With the next election only 16 months away, community activists have again tabled a petition asking the the division -- which has three three-trustee wards larger than some federal and many provincial ridings -- to go to nine wards of one trustee each. The idea has been kicking around for a dozen years without getting much support from trustees, who understand the power of incumbency.

Activists have argued that some neighbourhoods, such as Elmwood or Point Douglas, have never had a trustee living there.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A7

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