Twenty-nine hopefuls want spot in WSD

Only three incumbents vying for nine seats


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There could be unprecedented change coming to the Winnipeg School Division -- an upheaval unknown in recent memory for almost one-fifth of Manitoba's public school students.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2014 (3152 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There could be unprecedented change coming to the Winnipeg School Division — an upheaval unknown in recent memory for almost one-fifth of Manitoba’s public school students.

Only three incumbents are running for re-election on a nine-seat board that has consistently been controlled by a centre-left majority of self-styled progressives.

This time around, all bets are off and not just because there are another 26 people trying to win their first election.

The WSD finally opted, after more than a decade of dithering, to switch to nine single-seat wards of 14,000 or so voters apiece.

The division previously had three wards, each with three trustees and about 43,000 voters — each ward larger than any single federal riding and larger than all or parts of several provincial ridings.

The new boundaries are so bewildering that candidates met downtown last month to come up with strategies to help voters understand in which ward they live.

“The results are far-reaching — I hope that programs will be sustained,” said left-wing trustee Kristine Barr, who is retiring after 16 years.

St. James-Assiniboia returned only three incumbents for nine seats in 2010, but the board turned out to be a keep-calm-and-carry-on continuation of its predecessor — the revolution didn’t materialize.

The NDP no longer endorses candidates officially, but Barr said there are progressives nominated in almost every WSD ward, five of whom she’s personally endorsed.

“I still hope it’ll be a progressive majority on the board,” Barr said.

Two of those incumbents fit the criteria: Mark Wasyliw in Ward 3 and Cathy Collins in Ward 4.

The longest-serving member of the board is running again in Ward 8 — populist maverick Mike Babinsky has never been a member of the club, and as such has not only never been board chairman in 18 years as a trustee, but has never even chaired a major committee.

The 29 candidates are all over the spectrum, and they range from 18-year-old Luigi Imbrogno in Ward 1 to Cross Lake First Nation elder Jerald Funk in Ward 8.

Taxes are high in the WSD and some candidates have targeted spending. But Barr argued the WSD, an inner-city division with so many socioeconomic and ethnocultural challenges, requires money beyond what the province provides. “You need to have small incremental tax increases to make these things happen,” she said.

The division’s 10-month nursery program comes entirely from property taxes, as does the extra half-day in the pilot project for full-day kindergarten at four schools.

Funding for those trials included research to gauge if full-day kindergarten is effective, Barr pointed out. “See if there are differences, so the new board can evaluate if it is successful or not.”

There are candidates who’d yank that project in a heartbeat.

Within months of first taking office, Barr introduced the anti-homophobia education plan that has now been in place in the division since the fall of 1999 and has since been emulated by the Louis Riel School Division.

That policy is entrenched, but not carved in stone. The WSD offers far more high school course options than most divisions, operates the child guidance clinic, pays for breakfast programs and a housing registry to help low-income, often single-mother families get decent housing and has Manitoba’s most extensive special-needs programming.

That can all change.

The division faces enrolment challenges in the northwest, where trustees may have to ask the province to build another high school, possibly shared in an unusual partnership with the Seven Oaks School Division.

Candidates are promising to end the secrecy that has plagued the WSD and seen public board meetings last less than half an hour, followed by hours of important debate behind closed doors.

If current spending continues, the division budget could break $400 million within two years. Voters will have to decide if that’s money well spent.

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