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Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten, shown at the Globe and Mail building in Toronto on Monday.FERNANDO MORALES/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government and the Toronto District School Board are locked in a dispute over who is to blame for a renewed contract for the board's trade workers that fails to halt overspending and abuse of taxpayer funds.

The union representing skilled trade workers who perform routine maintenance and construction work at TDSB schools has been embroiled in scandal after revelations that its members charged $143 to install a pencil sharpener and used board credit cards to buy groceries and gas.

In imposing contracts on teachers, Education Minister Laurel Broten also rolled over more than 460 contracts, including that of the TDSB's trade workers. The move prevented the board from implementing contract changes that could have generated savings, including allowing the board to outsource work without paying a 0.5 per cent kickback to the union.

"We believe that we have been left in an untenable situation," TDSB chair Chris Bolton said in an open letter to the minister.

Ms. Broten has been putting pressure on the board to get its finances in order. She defended the decision to enact the contract, and blamed the TDSB for failing to negotiate a deal before the Aug. 31 deadline. She has appointed a team of advisers to help manage the TDSB's operations and said she was confident that savings could be found even without changes to the contract.

"The links between all of the different problem areas [at the TDSB] are really lack of control and accountability," she said.