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The boardroom of the TDSB at the beginning of their meeting in Toronto on Jan. 16, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
The boardroom of the TDSB at the beginning of their meeting in Toronto on Jan. 16, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

TDSB trustees expense ring tones, local conferences audit shows Add to ...

Toronto’s public schools have abused their expense budgets, raking up thousands of dollars worth of improper claims for conferences, meals, phone calls and even a parking violation.

An internal audit of the expense claims of the Toronto District School Board’s 22 trustees has found that the way trustees file their expenses is open to interpretation and inconsistent. On average, trustees spent $21,000 of their $27,000 expense allowance. A new policy that specifies what type of expenses can be reimbursed and when will be voted on by the trustees Wednesday. Details of trustee expenses will also be posted online.

Here are some highlights of the findings:

Travel

One trustee claimed 181 kilometres for one day of in-city travels, the equivalent of travelling from the 427 and 401 to West Rouge in Scarborough, down Kingston Rd. to the Gardiner Expressway and back up the 427 to the 401. Twice. The trustee did not provide any details of the purpose or locations of these meetings and cannot verify reasonability of the claim.

One trustee incurred $2,500 in taxi cab charges while another incurred over $4,700. While taxi “may be the most convenient method of transportation, it may not be the most economical,” the audit says.

One trustee claimed $250 for parking violation.

“At least four trustees purchase TTC tokens in bulk regularly without indication of how they are used. The risk is that they may be used for personal purposes.”

Office expenses

Payments to constituency assistants totalled nearly $1-million for 2010 to 2014, accounting to 64 per cent of trustee spending. Trustees are the only ones who sign off on the time the assistants work. There are such wide differences in how much trustees spend on the assistants – from an average of $68,001 to $7,924 – that the audit suggests spending could be reduced here without affecting trustees’ effectiveness.

One trustee claimed 100 per cent of home Internet charges for two residences in one month.

Postage costs for 2010 to 2014 ranged from $13,430 for Shaun Chen, trustee for Ward 21 while the trustees for Ward 20 (Soo Wong/Sam Sotiropoulos) came in second at $12,724. In nine wards, there were no claims for postage.

Gifts, conferences and ring tones

$1,054 in glass giftware to an organization in relation to the signing of a Board agreement.

$2,100 for 1,000 lanyards as giveaways for students.

At least four trustees who reside in Toronto attended a conference at the Toronto Sheraton Hotel and charged hotel and dinner charges for overnight stays. Another trustee attended a three-day conference but claimed expenses for six days following the end of the conference.

Trustees incurred over $14,000 in US and international calls, texting and roaming charges. Thirteen of 22 trustees subscribed to additional services such as premium ring tones, picture messaging and video messaging for a total of $2,000 for 2010 to 2014. Few of them were aware these services cost extra. While the current phone plan may not meet the needs of the trustees, they “can also consider turning off their phones while travelling abroad.”

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