Toronto trustees stand on their records, react to 'unfair' smear from parents' group

  • October 15, 2010
TCDSB LogoTORONTO - It's “unfair” and “irresponsible” for a Toronto Catholic parent group to ask electors to vote for anyone but the incumbents in the Oct. 25 election for Catholic school trustees, say some of Toronto's sitting trustees running for re-election.

The Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network made the call Oct. 12 for voters to oust the trustees who sat on the board for the last four years. The board has been under provincial supervision for more than two years after their refusal to balance the board budget as provincial legislation demands and trustee spending scandals came to light.  

At an Oct. 12 press conference, Murielle Boudreau, chair of the parent network, said “the present group of trustees has been under supervision for so long they deserve retirement. Save us from more of the following: more expense accounts scandals.”

A 2008 forensic audit found that trustees had almost $30,000 in questionable expenses. These included Internet gaming, alcohol and personalized licence plates. These have since been repaid. And former board supervisor Norbert Hartmann found that trustees acted outside the law when they approved more than $1.2 million in illegal expenses, including for health, dental and life insurance benefits.  

Five of the seven sitting trustees, as well as former chair Angela Kennedy, defended their record in interviews with The Register. They called for voters to make their own decision.

Barbara Poplawski, who is facing a conflict-of-interest charge before the courts for voting on the budget despite having children employed by the board who could be affected by the decision, said she questions the size of membership and credibility of the parent network to speak on behalf of parents.

“I worked very hard for the past 30 years to earn people's trust,” she said.

According to the audit, Poplawski had $1,012 in ineligible expenses. But Poplawski said “a large portion (of these expenses) went back to schools to support much needed programs.”

Former board chair Catherine LeBlanc-Miller said the parent network made an “irresponsible comment.”

“I have served my community very well. Any expense issues I've had were an error. I take responsibility for them. I think that's the responsible thing to do,” LeBlanc-Miller said, adding that she repaid her ineligible expenses immediately after learning of the mistake.

John Del Grande said “voters need to take a closer look at the facts” and look at their trustees' accomplishments. He defended his record of being “fiscally responsible, asking insightful and tough questions and not catering or pandering to any group.”

On his expense issues, Del Grande said they were only taxi expenses and car allowance which amounted to $110.

Trustee Maria Rizzo said voters “should decide for themselves.”

“I have served with integrity and honour,” said the seven-year trustee.

Rizzo said she had “no questionable expenses,” though the forensic audit reported $796 in ineligible expenses and $540 in potentially ineligible expenses for Rizzo.

Trustee Sal Piccininni is brushing off the anti-incumbent campaign.

“There's always, in every election, (people) who don't want to elect incumbents,” he said.

He said he's running again because he has been “fully accessible” and “never made a promise I couldn't keep.”

Piccininni was reported to have the highest amount in potentially ineligible expenses in the forensic audit at $13,804 and $1,170 in ineligible expenses.

Meanwhile, Kennedy told The Register in an e-mail that she has 10 years of “distinctive service as an elected trustee,” adding that she trusted that voters “will make an informed decision and not just base it on what a special interest group has to say.”

Kennedy said she “did nothing wrong (in) the matter (which) is before the courts” and is in the middle of appealing a late August ruling which found her guilty of conflict-of-interest.

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