Philanthropist offered to pay for cops in inner-city schools
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Winnipeg School Division trustees rejected an offer from a philanthropist — who has donated millions to local K-12 projects and has been meeting with board candidates running against incumbents — to pay for police officers in inner-city schools.
Walter Schroeder, who established the Schroeder Foundation with his wife Maria Schroeder, submitted a proposal to partially reinstate the police-in-schools program at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, the Free Press has learned.
Multiple division insiders said he presented a plan to cover the cost of three uniformed officers.
Schroeder grew up on the Prairies, before moving to Toronto, where he built a successful credit rating company that sold for a reported US $500-million in 2014. The family has focused on philanthropy since then.
Dating back to 2018, Schroeder has worked with division leaders regarding donations — for projects at St. John’s, Sisler and Daniel McIntyre high schools, in particular. His foundation, whose mandate includes “empowering youth and Indigenous communities,” estimates it spends upwards of $3 million on Winnipeg students every year.
A handful of individuals who have worked with the philanthropist said he has a track record of making unreasonable demands about timelines tied to projects and insisting on being involved in hiring and other decisions typically made by senior division management.
In emails reviewed by the Free Press, Schroeder appears demanding.
“Your school board is useless,” Schroeder wrote in a note to a senior staffer in the provincial education department in August 2019. “When is the reform (Bill 64, the Tories’ now-defunct plan to scrap school boards) that you talked about going to happen (?)”
The current board declined Schroeder’s offer to pay for police in the spring.
One year earlier, officials voted to stop contributing more than $500,000 annually for nine uniformed officers to work in city schools amid community calls to end the partnership. The board blamed budget constraints.
“(Schroeder) wants the Winnipeg School Division to just jump because he snapped his fingers and do it his way,” said one division source, who agreed to an interview on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal at work.
While his donations have undoubtedly changed lives for the better, the source said K-12 leaders cannot prioritize a Toronto philanthropist’s wishes above local pupils’ — including, in this case, racialized students’ concerns about uniformed officers.
Board chairwoman Betty Edel said the results of a 2021 division survey on perspectives on the police program were relayed to Schroeder.
“We found that police were not widely supported by parents and students in the schools… (The board) made a commitment to explore other options around safety issues,” Edel said.
School boards, the province and the Winnipeg Police Service pitch in to finance resource officer programs. Among their duties, the officers engage in restorative justice work, give presentations on bullying, and participate in threat assessments.
The positions, filled by constables outfitted with the same uniform and weapons as on-call colleagues, have been under scrutiny since the Police-Free Schools Winnipeg group formed in 2020.
In response to a request for comment about his conduct, including his support for trustee candidates in the current election, Schroeder said he is passionate about improving students’ lives.
“(I) give back by providing food programs, scholarships and other supports through the Winnipeg School Division. I make no apologies for putting the needs of children first,” he said, in a prepared statement.
The philanthropist added his foundation “will work with all those who share this student-focused approach.”
Division spokesman Andrew Pollreis acknowledged the partnership with the Schroeder Foundation and indicated his employer is “pleased to be working with them.”
While Schroeder has not publicly endorsed any nominees (and he is not required to do so), the Free Press confirmed he is supporting trustee candidates.
None of the incumbents — Edel, Jamie Dumont, Arlene Reid, Chris Broughton and Linda Schatkowsky — said they had received support from him. Dumont said she was contacted by a representative in late summer, but was not offered support.
An inner-city source said Schroeder hired at least one campaign aide to back Laurie Kozak, co-chairwoman of the St. John’s parent council. The community leader is up against Edel, the board chairwoman, and Patrick Allard, a fringe anti-COVID-19 restriction activist, in Ward 8.
Kozak said she didn’t receive assistance from the Schroeder Foundation, but did not respond to follow-up questions about receiving support from the philanthropist himself. Neither she nor Schroeder has addressed the claim that he hired a campaign aide for her.
The candidate is among a group — including Marilyn Simon, Lois Brothers, Ann Evangelista, Omar Rahimi and Perla Javate — who have mounted well-organized campaigns with similar individualized websites that feature endorsements and high-quality promotional videos.
None of these contestants have disclosed whether Schroeder is providing support to them.
Updated on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 6:07 PM CDT: typo fixed