Trustee controversy opens voters’ eyes, says Ontario education minister

By 
  • March 18, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - A silver lining to the troubles plaguing the Toronto Catholic District School Board over the past three years is that it has encouraged members of the Catholic community to stand for election or become more informed voters, says Ontario’s new education minister.

“I think it’s fair to say that what has unfolded at (the Toronto Catholic board) has required everyone to look at the role and function of school board trustees. I think that’s an important outcome,”  Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky told The Catholic Register.

“I think separate school supporters have come to appreciate the very important role they have at every municipal election when they go and put an ‘X’ beside a name on a ballot.”

The board was placed under provincial supervision two years ago after it failed to balance its budget and was stung by allegations of trustee misspending. Former provincial supervisor Nobert Hartmann released a scathing report in May 2008 on trustee spending and criticized the “culture of entitlement” at the board.

Then education minister Kathleen Wynne turned over an independent audit to police after finding questionable expenses. No charges were laid.

Dombrowsky said this experience has “heightened awareness” about the accountability of trustees.

“It’s a very important right that we have in the province of Ontario. That we, in the Catholic community, are able to elect representatives to a Catholic school board,” Dombrowsky said. “I think that now, there is perhaps a heightened awareness around why it is so important, that during the time of a municipal election, we look at people who put their name forward or may want to (run) in our own communities.”

On the progress of the TCDSB, Dombrowsky said it will get out of provincial supervision when trustees can demonstrate they “are able to balance their books.”

“I do need to be assured that there is a solid plan in place,” she said.

Dombrowsky said she plans to continue the McGuinty government’s focus on “improving student achievement across all schools in Ontario, increasing test scores and increasing grad rates.”

Dombrowsky said the government plans to “close the gap” for students who don’t meet the provincial average on the standardized tests. Last June, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which administers the standardized provincial tests, reported that 85 per cent of Ontario’s Grade 10 students passed the provincial literacy test, including the two-thirds of students who didn’t meet the provincial standard when they wrote the test in Grade 6.

Dombrowsky assumed her new role on Jan. 19. Before becoming education minister, Dombrowsky held cabinet posts as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Minister of the Environment. She is a former Catholic school trustee with several Catholic school boards, including the Algonquin and Lakeshore, and Hastings and Prince Edward Roman Catholic School Boards. She served as a trustee from 1985 until 1999. Dombrowsky also served as a director on the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

“I came to understand the responsibility (trustees) had to ensure that the schools had the resources to meet the needs of the school communities they serve,” Dombrowsky said.

Although new to the minister’s role, Dombrowsky said she’s “excited in moving forward” on the government’s initiatives, including the government’s multi-billion dollar full-day kindergarten program announced last October. Ontario will be the first jurisdiction in North America to establish such a program in early learning, she said.

“I believe this is a sound investment for our youngest learners,” Dombrowsky said.

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