Toronto trustees have plug pulled on Aug. 24 meeting

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  • August 24, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - With the abrupt cancellation of what would have been the first public meeting of embattled Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees since January, parents have been “shut out” of sharing power with the board, say two trustees.

Trustees John Del Grande and Rob Davis had set up an Aug. 24 meeting at the Catholic Education Centre for trustees to meet with parent and Catholic community groups. But provincially appointed board supervisor Norbert Hartmann revoked permission for the trustees, working under the name Association of Catholic Trustees, to use the board's headquarters.

“We were just looking to set the meeting to really talk to parents and re-engage them because they were feeling shut out. They've actually lost the parent out of the boardroom,” Del Grande told The Catholic Register.

Del Grande said the meeting was “nothing sinister,” but necessary because some of his constituents have expressed their feelings of “disconnection” from the board in the decisions it has made during the past school year.

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.

He added that the planned meeting was not a “recognized meeting of the board.”

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.” He said they would be meeting with parents and groups to discuss the next steps which could include holding a meeting Aug. 24 at a different location.

Hartmann did not return calls from The Register.

According to Del Grande, this decision follows a “frustrating” pattern: the supervision team has, so far, rebuffed his previous offers of being “part of the solution” of trying to find a way for trustees to regain some of its powers back.

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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