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Decisions can have fallout

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I expect we’ll be hearing more soon about the proposal to establish an aboriginal public school division in the city, but meanwhile, I’m wondering if a seemingly unrelated situation in Winnipeg School Division will play a role.

Governance is one of the major rationales in the plans to establish a new aboriginal public division in the city, and governance is an issue that WSD has done a great job of stonewalling.

It was more than eight years ago that a coalition of inner city and North End activists came to WSD to ask for a restructuring of the ward system, into nine wards of one seat apiece.

WSD currently has three wards of three trustees each, each ward having about 44,000 voters. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there are all or part of several provincial ridings in each of those enormous wards.

There are significant areas within WSD that have rarely or never had a local trustee, such as Weston, Elmwood, Point Douglas, downtown, Riverview. I can’t remember a time when all three trustees in Ward 1 didn’t live within six blocks of my house.

Yes, WSD board is somewhat diverse, but a key to winning and then holding office is having a large organization and deep pockets, thanks either to being an approved NDP candidate, or to having a wide range of Liberal/Tory friends and connections.

I’ll pause here while nine trustees spring to the keyboard to express their outrage at such heresy. Obviously, they were all elected entirely on individual merit.

OK, back to the blog.

That coalition back in 2001 reasoned that if the division was split into nine single-seat wards of about 14,000 voters, then a wider range of candidates of varying ethnocultural and financial backgrounds would have a decent chance of putting together an affordable and realistic campaign.

The Doer government and its series of education ministers have chipped away inexorably at the autonomy of school boards and imposed their will on school divisions on umpteen different issues, yet kept totally hands-off on this one, allowing WSD a free hand to decide if it would restructure its ward system for the 2002 general election.

Or the 2006 general election.

Or the 2010 general election.

And the trustees have decided — pause for suspense — that they’ll leave the situation just as it is, thank you very much. Gosh, what are the chances — incumbents leaving intact a system that favours incumbents and the existing power dynamics?

All of which gets back to the original point, that if aboriginal parents want a greater stake in the governance of the system educating their children, then having their own school board may look pretty good to them.

And moving along......

Eyes light up when Seven Oaks School Division and selling property appear in the same paragraph.

I saw in the Seven Oaks board minutes that there’s a proposal to sell a building lot on Kingsbury Avenue to Habitat for Humanity.

Alas, find something else for front page, no signs of a scandal here......Superintendent Brian O’Leary says that the division has had one lot on Kingsbury for years, for a future expansion of the school yard at Edmund Partridge School, but would need to acquire another three to have enough land, which wasn’t in the cards.

See how informed you can be by checking out your FP?

And in a seamless segue.......I can’t believe that the hordes of communications people at U of M missed sending out bulletins on the biggest story affecting students on campus in many a moon.

I was walking through University Centre this week, and noticed that the Tim Horton’s has moved from the centre of the food court over to the west side, back-to-back with the bookstore. And not only that, but the counter is at a 90-degree angle to where it formerly sat, which means the lineup now winds and curls in entirely new directions.

And once again, you’re far better informed for having consulted your FP.

Another topic........

I was refereeing nine-year-old girls at U of M last weekend, and some of the fathers — yes, the screamers were all fathers — were really starting to get on my nerves. "You’re afraid of the ball! Don’t get out of the way, block it! You’re afraid! Don’t be afraid! Get in front of that ball, don’t be so scared!!!!" And on, and on, and on, at the top of their lungs.

So, I’m thinking, if I hear it again, here’s what I’m thinking of doing. I’ll stop the game, stop the clock, and then invite the fathers to come down to field level. They can stand motionless, hands at their side, forbidden to use their hands or jump out of the way. And we’ll get a player — how about, say, number seven in purple over there, who looks as though she’ll be playing premier when she’s 13 — and the player will drill the ball at each father from six feet away, as hard as she can kick it. And then the dads will be chock full of empirical evidence when they’re screaming at a nine-year-old child that the ball doesn’t hurt and implying to the entire complex that that little child is cowardly.

Or maybe I’ll just get the coach and the RL, and tell them that the parent will spend the rest of the match in the lobby if he doesn’t put a sock in it.

Sigh.

Education Minister Nancy Allan is moving smoothly into the job. In question period this week, the Tories were asking about the extensive gymnasium renovations that Brandon School Division wants in George Fitton School and Green Acres School — Dang! Now that song will be in my head all day.

Allan answered three times without actually answering, which is a prerequisite for all cabinet ministers, but especially so for education ministers.

Though in not actually saying yes or no, Allan did continue to hammer home the message that the public schools finance board is an arm’s-length agency which will decide how to spend $310 million over four years on education capital projects without any involvement from the minister in making its decisions.

And who but the most cynical among us would ever have thought that the education minister would tell the PSFB how to spend $310 million?

Speaking of gyms, I have a notice here that Robertson School in Winnipeg SD is opening its new gym tonight. It’s a $4.8 millon package that includes the library, computer lab, and autism facility.

For anyone with pressing needs and a capital wish list, note that it’s almost seven years since I heard Ron Lemieux, NDP education minister #2, go to Robertson and sort-of-promise a new gym. That was in earlt 2003 when Lemieux was on a major tour of the province, promising new schools and gyms and libraries and neat stuff wherever he stopped, and wow, as luck would have it, a week or two later Gary Doer announced an election.

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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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