Toronto trustees should step up or get out

  • October 13, 2010
Toronto school board voteMany parents are exiting Toronto’s all-candidate Catholic school-trustee meetings feeling angry and frustrated that their voices are not being heard. And who can blame them?

In too many cases, as Ontario’s Oct. 25 municipal elections draw near, discussions at these meetings are being deliberately diverted from the years of flagrant misspending, self-serving decision making and sad-sack management by members of Toronto’s dysfunctional Catholic board.

It’s understandable that the eight people seeking re-election in Toronto’s 12 wards would be happy to mute discussion of the past term. The board, sullied by scandal, was deemed by the province to be unfit to manage itself and so it limps to election day under Queen’s Park supervision.

The board’s list of misdeeds is old news but worth repeating. A 36-page report in 2008 found that, despite knowing they were breaking rules, the Toronto board gave itself perks that contributed to $900,000 in office overspending.

In authoring the report, Norbert Hartmann said a “culture of entitlement” permeated the board as trustees awarded contracts to relatives while giving themselves such perks as dental and life insurance, car allowances, Blackberrys and home computers. Some trustees charged for personal items such as dry cleaning, shoe repairs, mini-bar bills and billed twice for restaurant expenses.

Subsequently, three trustees were removed from the board for indiscretions unrelated to the report. Christine Nunziata, amid allegations of expensing a Caribbean jaunt, was ousted for missing board meetings, while two board chairs, Oliver Carroll and Angela Kennedy (who is seeking re-election), were removed when a judge found them guilty of conflict of interest. Barbara Poplawski (also seeking re-election) faces the same charge.

Toronto’s Catholic voters deserve better. Parents are right to expect that past misdeeds and the broader issue of character and integrity be on the table at all trustee candidate meetings.

The role of a Catholic trustee is not just to balance the books and provide temporal support for our school system. Foremost, trustees are called to a vital spiritual vocation to set the tone for Catholic education. As practising Catholics they are entrusted with defining a Christ-centred, faith-based vision for our schools and, as such, must be leaders of unfailing personal integrity whose daily lives reflect the Catholic values we wish to instill in our children.

Those values, however, have been sadly lacking. Now it’s up to voters to become engaged in the electoral process and select trustees who can repair the damage. But that requires candidates participating in fulsome discussions of current issues and past improprieties. Voters have a right to demand answers and wanna-be trustees an obligation to provide them.

It’s time for candidates to step up to the mic or get out of the race.



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