Toronto Catholic trustees shut out again

By 
  • August 24, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - An on-again-off-again public meeting of the embattled Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees is off again.

The Aug. 24 meeting at the Catholic Education Centre was abruptly cancelled by the provincially appointed board supervisor last week. But it had been rescheduled by Catholic school trustees John Del Grande and Rob Davis for Aug. 24 at the Toronto District School Board.

But the public board's chair, John Campbell, told The Catholic Register the meeting is now cancelled, adding that there was never a permit obtained for use of the boardroom. Instead, there was only a room booking by public board trustee Josh Matlow.

“My personal view is I don't know why we would want to get involved in the politics of the Catholic school board. They're obviously having some challenges of being under supervision,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the public board's director of education and none of the Toronto District School Board trustees were informed of the room booking. If they had been, he said they would have discussed the proposal.

“One of the (Catholic) trustees who called me, trustee (Rob) Davis, said they wanted to use our boardroom for the symbolism of the meeting and I did not think it was in our best interest to have them use our boardroom for a symbolism or any kind of media event,” said Campbell

Toronto Catholic trustees John Del Grande and Davis had initially set up the Aug. 24 meeting at the Catholic Education Centre for trustees to meet with parent and Catholic community groups. But supervisor Norbert Hartmann revoked permission to use the board headquarters for the trustees on Aug. 19.

Del Grande told The Register that Catholic parents are once again being denied the opportunity to have their voices heard and share power with their board.

“We were just looking to set the meeting to really talk to parents and re-engage them because they were feeling shut out,” he said.

But Campbell said although he “sympathizes” with the position of the Catholic board trustees “who are trying to do their best to try to serve their constituencies,” he said he finds it “bizarre” to hold a meeting in a space outside the Catholic school board when there are Catholic schools available for their use.

Del Grande said some Catholic trustees will be meeting with parents again to decide their next steps and find an “appropriate location.”

According to Del Grande, there was nothing controversial planned in the Aug. 24 meeting agenda. For example, they would have discussed the Ontario government's Bill 177 on student achievement, but not the Arrowsmith program, he said.

Asked about whether this was a “power struggle” between the Catholic trustees and the supervisor, Del Grande said “this is not about trustees. Trustees know their place.”

“The power struggle exists between parents and supervisors. Parents used to own the board through their representatives and now, they sort of find themselves on the outside more and more,” he said.

In an Aug. 19 letter to Del Grande, Hartmann said, “Under supervision, trustees cannot meet as a board and have no decision-making power. We are concerned that some stakeholders may be confused about the nature of the meeting you are planning and the role of trustees while under supervision,” Hartmann wrote.

Hartmann wrote the supervision team was also concerned about Davis' comments in the media suggesting that trustees would be discussing the Arrowsmith program, which was cancelled as part of the board's cost-cutting measures in this year's budget. Parents of children in the program have brought a lawsuit against the board.

“It would be highly inappropriate for trustees to discuss this in a public meeting while the issue is before the courts,” Hartmann wrote.

But according to Davis, the meeting would have been a way to get parents' voices heard at the board decision-making table.

Davis said he is “shocked” at the supervision team's decision which “padlocks parents out of the boardroom.”

Hartmann did not return calls from The Register.

In January, Hartmann suspended trustees' advisory roles which removed them from the board table and placed them in the public gallery without the opportunity to speak at public board meetings. The board has been under supervision since last year amid a trustee spending scandal and failure to balance its budget.

Murielle Boudreau, chair of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, said it would still have been useful to have these kinds of meetings even though trustees don't have decision-making powers. It would have been a “helpful” avenue for parents to talk about issues or get their frustrations out, she said.

Meanwhile, Boudreau said some parents are concerned about the provincial impact of this local board situation on Catholic education and fear that this could be a step towards the “end of Catholic education.”

“It's a very bad sign to parents,” Boudreau said, “when they can't even meet.”

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