Norbert Hartmann

Windsor board disputes findings that led to provincial supervision

  • August 31, 2012

The Ontario Ministry of Education's decision to place the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board under provincial supervision is not sitting well with the board's trustees.

Deloitte and Touche LLP, an independent auditing, consulting and tax firm, produced a report for the Ministry of Education that detailed the various deficit-reduction shortcomings for the board's most recent budgets. It suggested the board appeared willing to cause labour disruption to balance its budget this year.

Despite board chair Barb Holland repeatedly going on record stating the board has no intention of forcing a labour disruption, the Ministry of Education accepted the Deloitte report Aug. 28 and promptly appointed Norbert Hartmann as supervisor.

"The decision to place the board under supervision was the direct result of the WECDSB's inability to meet its financial obligations," said Gary Wheeler, a ministry spokesperson. "In addition, the minister was troubled by the concerns outlined in the Deloitte report about the willingness of the board to endure a strike in order to meet its financial obligations."

The board has failed to balance its books in five of the past six years.   

Looking at the 2012/2013 budget, tabled with a projected $3.3-million surplus, the report "determined that there are significant risks in achieving all of the budget-reduction targets. Rather, we believe that there is a significant risk the school board will post a much smaller surplus of $0.7 (million) or even a deficit of up to $1.5 (million)."

A main criticism was that the projected figures, while optimistic, place too much weight on the results of collective bargaining agreements.

Holland doesn't agree with this point.

"You don't do your budget based on goals you'd like to achieve with a particular employee group," she said, adding that much of the predicted surplus came from lean administrative wages. "When we went into the budgeting process this year we were fully aware that ... contracts would expire by the end of August. The majority of our budget was based on what we felt was easily achievable in other budget lines."

What truly troubles Holland is not the accuracy of the statements made in the report, it is the speedy appointment of a supervisor just hours after the government received the report.

"I continue to be frustrated by the fact that a report had been put out and that we had no opportunity to discuss that report with the writers to challenge the findings," said Holland. "There's a lot in that report that I would like to challenge because things that are very positive for our board over the last six years have been portrayed as very negative in an effort to diminish the standing of the board of trustees and in an effort to justify the ministry's actions."

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association expressed similar sentiments. On Aug. 29 OCSTA president Marino Gazzola sent a letter to Minister of Education Laurel Broten.

"Although we do not challenge the statutory authority, we most strongly object to the way in which it has been exercised," wrote Gazzola. "As a matter of procedural fairness, the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board had a right to expect some dialogue with you and your staff before taking such a draconian step in implementing the recommendations of the investigator.

"We wonder how it is possible, Madam Minister, that you could have had time on Aug. 28 to have given thoughtful consideration to the investigator's report before presenting your recommendation to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, and how the Lieutenant Governor in Council could have had time to give thoughtful consideration to your recommendation, all before the first 11 hours of Aug. 28 had elapsed."

Despite their differences, both trustees and the government have one source of common ground — parents.

"I want the parents to know that it is the board’s intent to continue to represent them," said Holland. "We have no intention of abandoning our ratepayers."

"The Minister has asked the supervisor to work to ensure that parents continue to have input and a meaningful role in decision-making at this board," said Wheeler. "Parents will also be able to continue to work with local trustees who will be free to carry out individual responsibilities in local communities and at school events."

Hartmann officially takes up his position with the board Sept. 4. In 2008 Hartmann was appointed supervisor of the Toronto Catholic District School Board when it became the first Ontario school board to be taken over by the province.

Holland has already spoken with Hartmann about his plans.

"I have just spoken to the supervisor and we have agreed to meet in the very near future to establish a fair and reasonable way to work within established parameters," said Holland. "I am pleased with that."

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