Democracy deficit at Toronto Catholic school board

By 
  • June 25, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - A year of provincial supervision for the Toronto Catholic District School Board has been a year with little accountability and transparency, say some Catholic parent groups.

Murielle Boudreau, chair of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, said it has often been a one-way conversation with the provincially appointed supervision team of Norbert Hartmann and Norm Forma on key issues like the budget and special education funding.

“It’s nice to go to the public meetings and have our concerns addressed. (But) if we have any impact, it’s hard to say,” she said.

Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne put the board under supervision in June 2008 when it failed to balance its budget and was in the midst of a trustee spending scandal. Trustees were given an advisory role, but this was taken away by Hartmann in January after a public display of infighting. Now, trustees don’t sit at the board table and are not able to make statements at public meetings. This will continue until the next election in 2010.

Boudreau said the board isn’t listening to parents’ concerns about special education funding cuts, including to a group of parents who want to save the Arrowsmith program from being axed. Arrowsmith is a specialized program for students with multiple learning disabilities and has 65 students enrolled in it this year.

John Alicandro, who has a nine-year-old son in the program, said the supervisory team has been “non-responsive” in addressing parents’ concerns about the program’s review and hasn’t engaged in a meaningful dialogue.

“Their mindset is to slash and burn. That’s their intent,” he said, referring to the anticipated budget cuts that would see the program end, which was expected to be announced at a June 24 public meeting, after The Register’s press deadline.

Parents’ concerns about the board’s decision-making process are also being echoed by the Toronto Catholic teacher’s union.

“All decisions are behind closed doors. We don’t hear debate in public session. We don’t see who is making the decisions,” said Anthony Bellissimo, president of the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers.

Hartmann told The Register it isn’t the “ideal” situation to have a school board under supervision. But he said the supervision team has tried to make the process as open and as public as possible by publishing public agendas and inviting delegations to public meetings. And it’s impossible to recreate that public debate between 12 trustees, he said, given the constraints the board is under and with trustees’ actions leading to their removal from power.

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