The Toronto District School Board is spending about $700,000 to patch a potential security breach, changing the locks in schools after inadvertently making confidential information public.
The Globe and Mail has learned that staff at Canada’s largest school district are being directed away from their regular duties over the summer months and money is being used from the board’s operating budget to reconfigure the pin settings in locks at 140 elementary and high schools.
The school board released the details of hundreds of thousands of work orders to at least two newspapers in response to Freedom of Information requests. The data detailed maintenance work performed by the board’s skilled trades workers’ union between 2010 and 2012.
The works orders provided to The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star provided evidence of the shoddy record-keeping that has fuelled allegations of overspending at the school board’s maintenance and facilities department. Some work orders provided too little detail, while others – such as orders to change locks – revealed too much.
Some of the work orders included the key pin settings for locked doors in more than 100 schools.
The cash-strapped school board has come under public scrutiny for its $3-billion maintenance backlog. Now, having to direct a substantial chunk of money to change locks because of an error means that other more pressing projects could get sidelined.
“It is a shame and it is very sad, because this money could be going to our students, it could be going in our classrooms,” said trustee Stephnie Payne. “We’ve got to change locks simply because of the carelessness of our senior team.”
The Toronto Star recently launched an online project that released the full database of work orders, which included the pin settings of locks at some schools.
Steve Shaw, a senior manager of facility services, said it was only caught when a TDSB staff member, who is also a locksmith, started searching through the database and realized that a member of the public may be able to recreate a school key with the information provided. The Star has since removed the description of work orders under locks. But the work orders provided to The Globe show the names of the schools and describes the locks that need to be changed, along with some pin setting numbers.
Mr. Shaw said Toronto District School Board staff are in the midst of changing the key settings for the main doors at one school, and interior master key pins, which include doors to the gymnasium and main office, at 19 schools. Staff will also be changing the locks for individual rooms at 120 other schools, where codes were made public. The task is expected to take the entire summer.
There have been no security breaches at the 140 schools.
Many of the locks are being changed by taking them apart, removing the cylinder and reconfiguring the pins. Mr. Shaw said schools are also equipped with alarm systems if someone were to break in. Still, he acknowledged that it was a priority to change the locks, despite the $700,000 price tag.
“We’re being very proactive and erring on the side of caution,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Board spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz said the data were released publicly so the board could show transparency and accountability. “We realize it was an error,” she said. “We will be much more stringent in the future in terms of release of FOI materials.”
Trustees were first informed of the potential security breach and the high costs associated with it late last week.
Trustee Pamela Gough called the incident a “fiasco.”
“I’m just heartbroken about it, the safety and security of the schools is the most important thing,” she said. In light of the current backlog in maintenance and building repairs, there were better ways the board could have spent the money, she said.
Long-time trustee Gerri Gershon said it was a poor decision to release confidential information before properly vetting it. About the costs to fix the issue, she responded: “We have no choice.”