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More Babinsky, and this time it's personal

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Try to keep in mind that Winnipeg School Division spends $365 million a year and educates one child in six in the public school system. The people involved in governance of this empire are all, biologically at least, adults.

One of those 34,000 or so students was Jake Babinsky, who graduated from Grade 12 last week at Sisler High School.

His father, as you might surmise, is storied trustee Mike Babinsky, who today went absolutely ballistic in an email he fired off in all directions, including to senior WSD staff, Premier Greg Selinger and Education Minister Nancy Allan.

The gist: despise me if you will, but leave my family out of it, Babinsky (Mike) declared, directing his ire at fellow Ward 3 trustee Suzanne Hrynyk.

"I have five words: don’t mess with my family," an angry Babinsky (Mike) said a few minutes later in an interview.

Fine, Hrynyk fired back at Babinsky (Mike) in her own interview with me, then stop sending your children to represent you at public events — and while you’re at it, tell them they’re not to usurp the role of elected officials.

In his email, Babinsky (Mike) denounced Hrynyk for "your public intimidating, disrespectful, rude outburst" against his son Jake at Elmwood High School last week.

"You may not have noticed how bitter you’ve become, and how some of your decisions are based on anger and hatred instead of common sense," Babinsky (Mike) said to Hrynyk in an email with an extensive list of recipients.

Babinsky (Mike) has been pushing all kinds of motions recently attacking board secrecy and spending decisions, and has spent 18 years pushing other trustees’ buttons, delighting in constantly stirring up... um... stuff. He thinks his son Jake got hit when Hrynyk flung the stuff back as payback.

The incident occurred last Wednesday morning in front of half a dozen Elmwood staff, prior to the grades 9 to 11 academic awards ceremony. Babinsky (Mike) had conflicting events at Lansdowne and Garden Grove schools that prevented his going, so he sent Babinsky (Jake) in his stead. Last week of June, it’s pretty hard to find a time when several schools aren’t doing concurrent events.

"Suzanne Hrynyk, she approached my son and started verbally disciplining him: why are you here, you shouldn’t be here, the elected politicians should be here," said Babinsky (Mike). "She schooled him — he felt very uncomfortable."

Babinsky (Mike) said that he’s been sending his six children to represent him over the past 18 years when he can’t get to an event.

"It’s an experience, going on stage and speaking," he said.

Hrynyk had quite a different version — gosh, bet you didn’t see that coming.

"It’s been a longstanding concern that he sends family members," said Hrynyk, who’ll table a motion in September to end the practice. Unlike other politicians such as councillors, MLAs, and MPs, trustees have no staff, and if they can’t make it, trustees send a message, she said: "Reasonable people send regrets, that’s what all of us do, except Mr. Babinsky, who sends his children."

Hrynyk said that when she saw Jake Babinsky Wednesday, she told Elmwood principal Mike Babb in front of the young man that she was the only elected official present, she should be the one to bring greetings from the division, and that she should speak first.

"I said to his son that we can do the book awards together, and he wasn’t happy about that," Hrynyk said.

"My name was called," said Hrynyk, but as she moved to the microphone, "(Jake Babinsky) beat me to the podium. I went back and sat down," rather than sully the event for the students there, she said.

"It was quite embarrassing for me. I received several apologies the next day," said Hrynyk. "If there are elected officials there, we should have the priority to speak.

"I think I was publicly embarrassed, but I’m not sending emails that are rude and offensive, to the minister and the premier’s office," she said.

Hrynyk confirmed that Babinsky (Jake) later tried to speak to her, but she left Elmwood without talking to him. Nor has she responded to attempts by Babinsky (Mike) to talk to her.

"I would like to spend my time talking about things that matter," she said.

Meanwhile, several key figures did not return calls Tuesday, and -- perhaps wisely -- chose not to get involved in the mess.

I left messages for school board chair Rita Hildahl, who could address if everyone else on the board is upset that Babinsky sends family members to school events; for Elmwood High principal Mike Babb, whose event honouring bright kids almost got hijacked; and for trustee Darlyne Bautista, who gets invited to the same Ward 3 school events as Babinsky and Hrynyk.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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