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TDSB audit prompts review of executive salaries

TDSB holds its first meeting of the school year in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2013. A new audit suggests more than $1-million of public dollars has been going toward salary hikes despite wage freezes.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Provincial education officials will run spot-checks on the pay of senior school board administrators across Ontario after an audit of the Toronto District School Board revealed more than a million dollars in inappropriate wage increases.

The audit found the TDSB increased executive team salaries by 3 per cent between 2010 and 2013, contravening guidelines on salary freezesin the public sector. TDSB officials told auditors that other school boards had also ignored the province's order to freeze pay.

A Globe and Mail analysis based on salary disclosures for associate directors at several school boards found most received increases of approximately 3 per cent a year in the audit period.

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Education Minister Liz Sandals said her department routinely delves into the finances of selected boards every year, and wages will be included in those reviews.

"We often hear from boards that they need more money, they need more money, they need more money," she said. "I think step one is to make sure that they're spending the money that they already have wisely."

Donna Quan, who was appointed the TDSB's education director this fall, declined to indicate whether she would ask senior staff to pay back a portion of their wages. "We recognize that there is a broader public-sector compensation requirement … we will work with the Ministry of Education to address this," she said.

Ms. Quan asked the ministry in June to examine the board's financial management practices after questions within the organization about spending and allegations that procedures were not being followed. The term of the audit, September, 2009, to June, 2013, mainly covers the tenure of director Chris Spence, who resigned in January amid plagiarism allegations. The audit, released on Tuesday by the province, also found the TDSB had not followed procurement guidelines, used education program funds improperly and did not monitor trustee expenses.

Procurement

In almost half the bids, the TDSB did not follow the proper process, the audit said. The team tested 20 samples, and found that in 45 per cent, the school board did not use a competitive bid process as required.

Non-compliance with TDSB's procurement policies reached to the top. The audit report found that 79 per cent of the transactions in the director's office did not use a competitive bidding process. Further, half of these transactions were not signed by the director.

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Ms. Quan, who took over Canada's largest board in the fall, has pledged to make all expenses from her office public. On Tuesday, the TDSB said it will train staff in procurement policies.

Educational programs

The audit team found that $3.2-million for educational programming was not spent according to provincial rules, but used to reduce and balance the operating budget.

Trustee expenses

The team examined 65 trustee expense claims totalling $52,136, and found about 30 per cent potentially ineligible. One trustee claimed a one-night stay at a Toronto hotel for a conference, despite living in the city. Another potentially ineligible expense was "duplicate reimbursement for home Internet charges."

The audit team also described a "culture of fear" at the school board, and recommended that trustees cease to be involved in staffing changes with the exception of the director of education. "Pressure is sometimes put on staff to not comply with set policies and some employees fear their employment may be terminated if they refuse to do as requested," the report said.

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With a report from Simona Chiose

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About the Authors
Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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