Last week, the Winnipeg School Division voted in favour of switching to nine wards for the October 2014 general municipal election.
The new system, which will have one trustee elected to represent each of the nine wards, is set to replace the current WSD structure, which consists of three wards with three trustee representatives per ward.
In May, a petition to review the nine-ward system came to the WSD’s board of trustees. After consultation with parents, residents and organizations in the community, the board voted in majority of the proposed ward boundaries, 6-3.
"I think this is a change that’s been long in the coming," said Kristine Barr, a Ward 2 trustee and chair of the ward boundaries committee.
"It’s about time that we move to a system that’s more democratic and can potentially be more representative of the communities that we serve."
Barr believes smaller wards will provide parents and residents of the WSD area with better connections to school trustees, as well as resulting in fairer campaigns come election time.
"Right now, with three trustees elected in three wards, when someone runs a campaign they’ve got to do that in an area that’s larger than a federal riding, over 45,000 voters," Barr said. "It’s very difficult to get out there and reach all of your potential supporters, and this will make it a much more equitable activity."
Jennifer Rattray, a resident within the division, said she hopes the nine-ward system provides the opportunity for community leaders, parents and low-income people to be better able to run for school trustee.
"You can do that hard work, that door-to-door work, and you can get your name out there," said Rattray, who has a son going to elementary school in what’s currently Ward 1.
"With the bigger wards, having wards the size of federal ridings, it’s pretty tricky to get your name out, so I’m really hoping that some really good people who are working in the North End and the inner city now have an opportunity to run a campaign, and whether they win or lose, they have a better chance."
Rattray, a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation and the University of Winnipeg’s associate vice-president of indigenous, government and community affairs, also hopes the new boundary system will be more ethnically representative of the area.
"When we’re talking about the North End and inner city or the city period, there are an incredible number of First Nations and Métis people, as well as newcomers," she said. "I think our school system is going to be even better with our school trustees being more reflective of the community they serve."
However, the new boundary system doesn’t go immediately into effect, as there first needs to be a bylaw change according the Public Schools Act.
"We anticipate we’ll receive approval before our next regular board meeting on Nov. 18, and we’ll have our first reading on that date," Barr said.
"Every bylaw must go through three separate readings, so it wouldn’t be until sometime in December that it’s passed, that is unless those requirements are waived and agreed to unanimously by the board of trustees. Because there wasn’t unanimous support for this, I anticipate we’ll need three separate reading dates in order to pass the bylaw."
"Once the bylaw passes, we submit it to the City of Winnipeg. That must happen by the end of March 2014 in order for it to be in place by the next civic election in October 2014."