Toronto school supervisor chops board deficit

By 
  • September 12, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - In an effort to regain the public’s trust and confidence, the Toronto Catholic District School Board will be making large cuts to trustee expenses and reducing the board’s overall budget deficit by $8 million, according to a new report by provincial government-appointed supervisor Norbert Hartmann.

In an Aug. 26 report, Hartmann said the board’s accumulated deficit will be less than $10.2 million next year compared to $18.8 million last August.

The reductions come from cutting trustee expenses, including freezing hospitality and promotional expenses, and suspending funds for trustee constituency assistants. But the report said trustees will have access to board support services and staff.

Another major change is limiting trustees’ role to only representing their constituencies. They will no longer be part of the board’s formal decision-making body.

“The governance function of trustees must be clearly understood before it is restored. As well, the public confidence in the trustee’s ability to govern must be re-established,” Hartmann wrote.

The provincial government took control of the Toronto Catholic District School Board on June 4 when Catholic school trustees were cited for misusing public funds. Hartmann, a former assistant deputy minister of education, had written an earlier report on the abuse of trustee expense accounts.

His investigation revealed that the cost of running the Toronto Catholic District School Board was among the highest in the province — at a cost of $100,000 per trustee including trustee expenses, travel and office support.

With the August report, the board is establishing new rules for reimbursing trustee expenses.

“Trust is a fragile commodity. Once shaken or lost, it is difficult to regain,” Hartmann wrote.

The new policy removes trustee benefits, eliminates the use of expenses for gifts and donations and replaces the $8,000 car allowance with reimbursement for mileage travelled. It also sets a yearly maximum of $3,000 for board-approved conferences and workshops.

All expenses must be approved by the board’s director of education and reported on a quarterly basis.

These restrictions on trustee expenses will be in place until the board’s accumulated deficit is eliminated, the report said.

Under Hartmann’s leadership, the supervision team will be responsible for board decisions and policies. The team’s decisions will go through a formal approval process, the report said. The board’s agenda will be posted on its web site every second Friday of the month. Also, parents, students and teachers can voice their opinions at a board-sponsored meeting to be held every third Wednesday of each month.

In a move designed to increase transparency and accountability, a staff liaison and community advisory committee will meet on an “as-needed basis.”

As for the trustees’ role, they will continue their local constituency work and advocate for their constituents by communicating with board staff and the supervision team, as well as working with such bodies as the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association and the Special Education Advisory Committee.

According to board chair Catherine Leblanc-Miller, the changes will still enable trustees to fulfil their primary role of working with their communities and advocating at the board level.

But she said other trustees have expressed concerns that these changes will affect trustees’ ability to provide input on decisions affecting their constituency.

Unlike the previous practice of being able to debate board decisions with other trustees in a public forum, Leblanc-Miller said trustees will now have to advocate informally and privately to the board.

“I think it’s important that the work done in the community continues. It’s really the community that elects trustees,” she said.

The supervision team will request the Ministry of Education conduct an “efficiency and effectiveness review” of the board by next year’s budget cycle, the report said.

Hartmann added that these reforms are the first steps to regaining public trust and confidence, but cautioned that “they are not enough.” All Catholic board partners need to establish a relationship based upon trust and a “culture of co-operation,” he concluded.

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