One school board trustee per ward plan would open doors: reports


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Indigenous and newcomer advocates want Winnipeg school boards to rejig their electoral maps so there is only one trustee per ward, in order to shrink the size of each constituency and make campaigning more accessible.

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This article was published 21/03/2022 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Indigenous and newcomer advocates want Winnipeg school boards to rejig their electoral maps so there is only one trustee per ward, in order to shrink the size of each constituency and make campaigning more accessible.

The newly released 2021 State of Equity in Education reports call attention to the limited number of racialized people in all areas of the public school system, from classrooms to governance tables, and issue recommendations on how to boost representation.

Both documents — which are authored by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle and Newcomer Education Coalition, respectively, in partnership with the Community Education Development Association — argue representation is critical and boards must reflect K-12 populations so issues affecting students of colour are brought forward to improve overall outcomes.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Tom Simms, Researcher for the State of Equity in Education Report.

Five of the 54 trustees serving in Winnipeg, River-East Transcona, Pembina Trails, Seven Oaks, St. James-Assiniboia, and Louis Riel districts self-identify as Indigenous and three identify as racialized, according to the reports.

“Structurally, governance is an issue. White people run the school system,” said Tom Simms, co-director of CEDA.

The inaugural such reports published in 2020 called for the creation of designated seats on governance structures for both Indigenous and racialized individuals to proportionately reflect parallel student populations. Additionally, equity advocates encouraged boards to implement consensus decision making rather than majority-rule processes “to ensure all voices are authentically included.”

Simms said there was little interest in the above, so the authors went back to the drawing board to come up with a pitch to ensure the people sitting around board tables reflect the students their decisions affect.

WIEC, NEC and CEDA did not have to look any further than the province’s largest school board.

Simms was among the inner-city advocates who first started lobbying WSD to switch to smaller wards more than two decades ago. Following years of advocacy, which began in late 2001, the board broke up its three massive wards, each of which was represented by three trustees, into a nine-ward system in time for the 2014 municipal election.

Before the change, each trustee represented roughly double the voters trustees in other smaller districts represented.

“The WSD used to be three wards with three trustees in each ward. It was just so big. We thought making it smaller, more around geographic communities would bring out a more diverse representation,” Simms said. “That, in fact, has happened.”

The current chairperson and vice-chairperson of the WSD are both Métis women.

Board chairwoman Betty Edel said she would recommend her colleagues in other districts implement a one-trustee-per-ward map.

“It’s easier to get to know nine schools and what’s going on in there than to know 30 schools. It’s partly about scale. It’s also about building relationships,” said the WSD trustee, who represents Ward 8, located in and around the North End.

Edel said smaller wards make campaigns more accessible for people who may not have ever thought they could run for public office because there are fewer doors to knock on and volunteers to mobilize across an area, while candidates can focus on building relationships in certain communities.

“It’s just really important that we’re reflecting the diversity, socioeconomic experiences, cultural experiences (that students have),” said Heather McCormick, who co-wrote WIEC’s State of Equity in Education report.

Kathleen Vyrauen, co-chairwoman of the Newcomer Education Coalition, echoed those sentiments.

“This one-ward, one-trustee system, for us, is just allowing a clearer pathway to change,” Vyrauen said, “and to eliminate those bureaucratic ways in which change is often stalled.”

Boards must consider population density and “any special diversity or community interests of the inhabitants of a part of the school division,” among other things, when they redraw ward boundaries, according to the Public Schools Act.

Manitoba’s next municipal election is Oct. 26.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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