The Toronto District School Board has dispersed tens of thousands of dollars in provincial government funding to a charitable organization founded by board chair Chris Bolton, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Friends of Community Schools, founded by Mr. Bolton in 1996, is one of dozens of charitable groups that has received money from a provincially funded program operated by the TDSB, according to documents obtained by The Globe. Mr. Bolton did not officially declare his potential conflict of interest.
Mr. Bolton stepped down as a trustee of Friends of Community Schools in December, 2010, when he became chairman of the TDSB. He maintains close ties to Friends of Community Schools through his live-in partner, Terry Ross, chairman and president of the charity. The couple’s Toronto residence is listed as the charity’s address.
Prior to 2010, Mr. Bolton’s multiple roles placed him in a potential conflict. Not only was he vice-chair of the TDSB while he was a trustee of the charity, he also sat on a steering committee that decided which charities received funding from a TDSB program. When asked if he made a formal declaration to the school board about his role in the charity at that time, Mr. Bolton said he did not, adding there were no rules requiring him to do so.
The lack of disclosure regarding the potential conflict raises questions about governance practices at Canada’s largest school board. There are no rules requiring trustees to declare such conflicts, a practice that drew red flags in a December, 2013, forensic audit done by Ernst & Young LLP, which also expressed concerns about spending by senior staff.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Bolton acknowledged that the TDSB’s policies governing conflicts need strengthening, but said the provincial government must get involved. “We need clarity,” he said. “We keep saying to the province, ‘please help us.’”
Mr. Bolton said he resigned from the charity when he became chair of the TDSB to distance himself from it. He said the TDSB has known about his involvement with the charity, which has contributed more than $600,000 to school– and community-based programs since its inception.
The revelations of lax governance come at a time of heightened tensions at the school board. Mr. Bolton even staffed last week’s board meeting with police officers after director of education Donna Quan accused some trustees of threatening and intimidating staff.
The Ernst & Young audit, commissioned by the province and released in December, raised concerns about the involvement of unnamed trustees in external organizations. On numerous occasions, the report says, TDSB trustees, family members or close business associates had connections to not-for-profit organizations that received government funding. Ernst & Young said it did not find any declarations of a conflict of interest in the personnel files at the school board.
Friends of Community Schools received $56,000 in funding to run a summer camp for 225 children at Ryerson Community School in the summer of 2009, according to documents. The money came from Focus on Youth, an employment program for at-risk youths operated by the TDSB. Focus on Youth has received $21-million in provincial funding since its inception in 2007. Mr. Bolton is a former principal and vice-principal of Ryerson, an inner-city elementary school in Toronto.
He also had ties to Focus on Youth, the documents show. In April, 2008, Mr. Bolton was one of four TDSB trustees appointed to the program’s steering committee, which looks at how to allocate funding. His charity applied for funding from the program in 2009, according to a memo to TDSB trustees. Mr. Bolton said he is no longer on the steering committee.
Ms. Quan said in an interview on Monday that she was not aware of Mr. Bolton’s role with Friends of Community Schools. She has directed board staff not to be part of any charitable group that receives TDSB funding and to disclose any conflicts. “If there is a conflict of interest,” she said, “they are mandated to inform their supervisor.”