Parent group calls for trustee resignations

  • November 6, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - In the wake of a long-awaited audit report of Toronto’s Catholic school board, at least six school trustees who will be repaying the  board for “inappropriate expenses” should resign, according to a Catholic parents’ group.

The Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network also says that the twice-delayed provincial audit won’t restore public trust and confidence in the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
“Now, with the economic times we’re in, it seems to compound the problem,” said the network’s chair, Murielle Boudreau.“They should have resigned by now.”

Catholic trustees were audited after media reports of inappropriate spending arose almost a year ago, including the expenditures of former trustee Christine Nunziata who it was found billed the board for her honeymoon trip to the Dominican Republic, among other expenses. Nunziata was removed from the board in February for missing too many meetings.

For Catholic parents, Boudreau said one of the audit’s main flaws is that it is only looking at the expenses of sitting trustees. This means that the controversial spending habits of Nunziata aren’t part of the audit. Leaving out Nunziata is undermining the audit’s legitimacy in the eyes of many parents who want a “clean slate,” Boudreau said.

Michelle Despault, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Education, said the audit’s mandate is to examine expenses of current trustees. But she said if Education Minister Kathleen Wynne finds anything in the audit “that would be a cause for concern to make us look at Ms. Nunziata, she would pursue that.”

Ontario government-appointed supervisor Nobert Hartmann released a scathing report in May of trustee spending, scolding Catholic trustees for the “culture of entitlement” which existed at the board. The trustees had racked up $1 million in personal expenses, according to the report. The forensic audit, expected to be released before the end of November, is examining trustees’ spending since 2003 and will seek repayment for inappropriate expenses.

Among the controversial expenses was a bill for $7,577 from former board chair Oliver Carroll, who was at the helm during the initial provincial review, to pay for a masters of education degree. But Carroll said auditors found this expense did not violate any board rules and was not asked to repay the tuition.

Board chair Catherine Leblanc-Miller said she was asked to reimburse the board for some of her expenses but would not disclose the amount.

“It would be irresponsible for me to comment on a report which is not yet completed and which I have not yet received,” she said.

As for whether all trustees should resign, Leblanc-Miller said it is up to individual trustees to decide.

“This has been a very trying time for all of us,” she said. After a tumultuous school year for the Catholic board, she said having the results of the audit will help the Catholic community move forward.

“We all want this behind us,” Leblanc-Miller said.

Trustees Paul Crawford, Angela Kennedy, Sal Piccininni and Maria Rizzo told The Register they were asked to reimburse the board, but they wouldn’t say how much they owed. Kennedy, Piccininni and Rizzo cited clerical errors and a duplication of expense claims as reasons for the reimbursement.

Rizzo said she isn’t disclosing the amount she has to repay because she “wasn’t sure if we’re allowed to talk about it.” But Rizzo said accountability might also extend beyond the trustees.

“If it was OK once and approved by staff consistently, then why is the  trustee on the hook?” she asked.

Meanwhile, Ward 7 trustee John del Grande said he has already repaid $110.25 for taxi expenses which auditors said weren’t allowed under board policy.

Trustees Joseph Martino, Ann Andrachuk, Mary Cicogna and Barbara Poplawski did not return requests for an interview by The Register’s press time.

The Toronto Catholic school board has been under provincial supervision since last spring when Wynne assigned Hartmann to run the board after trustees failed to balance their budget and the spending excesses were making front page news.

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