We'll be watching the new school boards

  • October 28, 2010
school boardsToronto voters mostly ticked the box called status quo when selecting Catholic school trustees in the recent municipal elections. That’s their right, of course. But we hope for the sake of Catholic education that returning trustees don’t interpret this spirit of forgiveness (or is it apathy?) as a signal to resume business as usual.

Six of the eight Toronto trustees who stood for re-election were returned to office. The list included a former board chair, Angela Kennedy, who had been bounced from office last summer after being found guilty of conflict of interest.

A popular mantra during the Toronto campaign said it was time to put the “trust” back into “trustee.” That won’t be easy. There has been a serious breach of trust not only between Catholic trustees and many concerned Catholics, but also between the institution of Catholic education and the community at large. The selfish actions of the former Toronto board harmed the case for two state-supported school systems and provided ammunition to those who want publicly funded Catholic education abolished.

Entrusted to govern by the faith-based virtues that make Catholic education distinct, Toronto trustees instead ran budget deficits while voting themselves illegal health and dental benefits, filing for illegitimate expenses and engaging in conflict of interest. Their conduct caused the Ministry of Education to assume control of the board and spurred Archbishop Thomas Collins, in an unprecedented appeal, to urge Catholic voters to rigourously assess trustee candidates and hold them accountable to the highest standards of personal integrity and conduct, selecting trustees who might act with honour, dignity and respect for the law.

That responsibility isn’t lessened by these elections. Indeed, the responsibility to hold trustees accountable is more important than ever. Publicly funded Catholic education was voted out of existence in Quebec and Newfoundland little more than a decade ago. It would be foolish and arrogant to believe the same couldn’t happen in other provinces.

Catholic school trustees play a vital role in managing budgets, forming policy and guiding curriculum, but their primary responsibility is to be faithful guardians of the very institution of Catholic education. When they are reckless, dishonest or corrupt, when they place perks and benefits ahead of student needs or petty politicking ahead of the common good, they weaken the moral foundation of Catholic education. And when trustees fail to embody Catholic values, they energize opponents of Catholic education who may criticize wayward trustees but really take aim at the institution itself.

If the trustee scandals have taught us anything it is that everyone who has a stake in Catholic education needs to be vigilant. Public complacency contributed to the  virus of of entitlement that infected the former board. As the new board takes office, it’s up to all of us to keep an eye on them.

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