More people have entered the competition to earn a seat on Manitoba’s largest school board this year than they have in at least 25 years.
Thirty-five nominees will appear on ballots across the Winnipeg School Division on Oct. 26. During the last election, in 2018, only 18 people registered and one-third of WSD trustees secured a spot by default because they were uncontested.
This time around, none of the nine seats at stake has been acclaimed. In Ward 5, nine nominees are vying for a single position.
“Some of the most organized and passionate advocacy in opposition to Bill 64 came out of many of those Winnipeg School Division communities, so it’s not surprising,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association. “It’s great to see.”
Campbell said some citizens have disclosed that COVID-19 and the province’s now-defunct plans to abolish school boards shone a light on trusteeship as an effective way to be “a strong voice for one’s community” and encouraged them to mount campaigns.
At the same time, the longtime trustee said he has heard the vitriol elected officials have faced throughout the current term — related to public health policies, among other items — discouraged others.
The Pallister government touted the Education Modernization Act as a way to streamline services and find savings by eliminating trustees and replacing elected boards with a government-appointed panel. Proponents justified the plan, which was scrapped one year ago due to widespread backlash, by citing the significant number of acclaimed trustees.
Nine seats on three boards in the metro region, which includes Louis Riel, Pembina Trails, River East Transcona, Seven Oaks, St. James-Assiniboia, and Winnipeg were acclaimed in 2018.
This year, only four candidates, who hail from two divisions, have automatically secured spots — incumbent trustees Colleen Carswell (RETSD) and Pamela Kolochuk (LRSD), as well as two new leaders: Sheri Irwin (RETSD) and Chipalo Simunyola (LRSD).
Simunyola, a father of four from Sage Creek, said he was relieved to learn there will be less pressure on him and his family in the coming weeks.
Following years of considering trusteeship, he decided to run with a goal of putting his project management and leadership skills to good use to serve his community. Simunyola said it is not lost on him that Bill 64 could have ceased the opportunity to do so.
“Our school system, in the last couple of years, went through so much change… and I think a lot of people paid attention,” said the newly acclaimed trustee.
A decrease in acclamations overall suggests the system is working as intended, said Cameron Hauseman, an assistant professor of educational administration at the University of Manitoba.
“Having such a robust roster of candidates suggests many people have a genuine concern for the community and for public education, more broadly,” said the researcher, who is interested in school leadership and governance.
Hauseman said engaging candidates who have something to say can get voters energized and encourage them to get to the ballot box. While noting trustee elections are often “overlooked,” he said the hope is that a diverse, broad array of candidates will increase voter turnout this year.
The voter turnout was 42 per cent, with 216,003 residents casting ballots in the 2018 Winnipeg municipal and school boards election.
The Division scolaire franco-manitobaine is anticipated to release its list of prospective trustees (commissionaires) today.
Three people have registered and been accepted in the Seine River School Division ward that encompasses St. Norbert.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press