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Toronto school board wants provincial advisers to collaborate, not supervise

TDSB director of education Chris Spence.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board will be accepting advice from a provincially appointed team on how to manage its fiscal woes.

Trustees debated for hours Wednesday whether to accept the Ministry of Education's offer to send in a special advisory team. Some were reluctant to hand over power to a minister who has threatened them with a takeover.

The board has accepted the offer with the provision that the advisers are responsible to the board's director of education, Chris Spence, rather than the ministry.

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"We appreciate the offer; we want to work together," said chair Chris Bolton.

The board has faced a number of embarrassing revelations regarding spending on maintenance and school construction in the face of a growing capital deficit.

An independent review by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which one source called "scathing," found serious problems with the board's oversight of its operations, including maintenance workers, building construction and finances.

Trustees were given a copy of the report Wednesday. Officials at the Ministry of Education felt it was critical enough to send in a team of education experts to advise the board on its finances.

Minister of Education Laurel Broten said she would "have more to share" Thursday after the board accepted.

The Pricewaterhouse Coopers report was requested by the TDSB and commissioned by the province, which told the board last week that it wanted to appoint a team of advisers. Trustees discussed the offer this week and responded with a list of questions regarding the team's role and powers.

"The devil is in the details with this one," said trustee Pamela Gough.

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She said the board needed the advisers to work in a collaborative way with trustees and staff, rather than as supervisors.

The province has been critical of the TDSB's estimated $50-million capital deficit, high prices charged by maintenance workers, and a deep retrofit of a school building that ran nearly $10-million over budget.

Ms. Broten said in October that she was "outraged" at the budget overruns and threatened the possibility of a provincial takeover.

The board was stripped of its powers by a Progressive Conservative government in 2002, because it failed to balance its budget. Some of current trustees sat on the board at the time, and are reluctant to cede power again.

Ms. Gough said it was inaccurate to paint the TDSB as mismanaging its fiscal responsibilities.

"To portray this board as one that doesn't balance its funds is not accurate," she said. "We made $100-million in cuts to balance our last budget."

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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