Trustee infighting derails election of board chair

  • January 30, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Toronto Catholic District School Board will be without a chair and decision-making powers indefinitely until trustee infighting stops, says Ontario's education minister.

Kathleen Wynne told The Catholic Register that she supports the Jan. 28 decision of provincially appointed board supervisor Norbert Hartmann to suspend the appointment of a chair. Long-time trustee Angela Kennedy had been chosen chair, with Ann Andrachuk elected vice-chair, at a Jan. 22 meeting, but the choices were subject to Hartmann's approval.

“We have the responsibility as a ministry for making sure that issues that affect students are dealt with in a responsible manner,” Wynne said. “That’s not what’s happening at the board.”

The Toronto Catholic board has been under provincial supervision since last June when it failed to balance its budget. A report by Hartmann last year uncovered a “culture of entitlement” rampant at the board and questionable spending excesses.

“The community as a whole is once again dismayed and disappointed by the actions of the board. The conduct of trustees continues to undermine confidence in Catholic education and our publicly funded education system as a whole,” Hartmann said in a statement.

He added that board members are expected to “conduct themselves with civility and act in a way that treats the interests of students and the board as a priority” and encouraged trustees to “step back, to be calm, to reflect, to re-focus on the objectives.”

Signs of disunity began to emerge at the Jan. 22 public meeting to choose a chair. Two trustees objected to turning a majority vote for the election winners into a unanimous decision. Maria Rizzo said she objected to the lack of democracy in choosing the chair because of Hartmann’s call for unanimous support behind the winners. She added that the vote was really a “game” that she didn't want to play because the supervision team had the final decision in the end. Rizzo had the support of Catherine LeBlanc Miller.

Also at the meeting, Rizzo accused former chair Oliver Carroll of attempting to intimidate her. And after the meeting, LeBlanc Miller said Carroll told her, “F--- you,” an allegation Carroll denies.

Kennedy said she was “disappointed” but not surprised by the decision after what happened at the meeting. But she said she was still ready to lead and would be speaking with her colleagues to “figure out what our next steps are.”

“I don't want to play the blame game. I think the supervisor is right. We need to sit back, take some stock of things and figure out as a group of 12 how we can do that,” she said.

But critics of the supervision team’s decision said it raises the issue of a democratic deficit. John Borst, a former director of education and a trustee at the Northwest Catholic District School Board since 2003, runs a Catholic education blog called “Tomorrow’s Trust.” He told The Register from Dryden, Ont., that denying Kennedy her seat reaches a “new level of interference” by Hartmann and Wynne.

“It sends a very chilling message to all trustees in the province about just how far the minister is going to go and the supervisor is going to go in controlling trustees,” Borst said. “They are not appointed. They are elected. Their first obligation is to the electorate.”

Borst argued that not having a chair appears to be contravening the procedural bylaws of the Toronto Catholic board and the Ontario Education Act.

But Wynne said there will be a chair at the Catholic board, although that probably won't be any time soon. The board needs to demonstrate that it will be a more cohesive group, she said.

“Personal attacks and sniping at each other really undermines public confidence,” Wynne said.

Carroll said he agrees that Kennedy should have been appointed chair and that trustees should get on with their work, even if two trustees “don't want to participate.” The board, he said, is “on track for a balanced budget.”

LeBlanc-Miller said trustees should have been given an opportunity to try to work together under a new chair.

“It’s very disappointing and it doesn’t demonstrate leadership or courage on (the supervision team's) part,” she said.

As for parents' reaction, Penny Boyce-Chester of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network said many are fed up.

“(The trustees) are really dysfunctional. I don’t know where their Christian values are,” she said.

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