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Province takes reins from Windsor’s Catholic school board

Windsor's Catholic school board is being taken over by the provincial government after an external review found that staff were willing to rely on a strike in order to balance their budget.

The school board has failed to balance its books in five of the last six school years. This year, board staff found they were short $2.2-million and noted that a strike may help to generate those savings.

The authors of the report, consultants from Deloitte, noted that staff did not have a contingency plan.

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The province has appointed Norbert Hartmann, a former public servant, to oversee the financial management and administration of the board.

"Supervision will help put the board back on track to make responsible decisions that are in the best interests of students," education minister Laurel Broten wrote in an open letter to parents.

Barbara Holland, chair of the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, denied that staff intended to use a strike to balance the budget.

"That's a fairy tale," she said. "In a strike, no one wins."

The Windsor Catholic board was one of the loudest critics of the deal the province struck with Catholic teachers. Trustees there raised concerns about hiring and assessment terms that have become a flashpoint for trustees across the province.

Ms. Holland said the province is taking "retaliatory" measures in putting her board under supervision.

The last board to be put under supervision was the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2008. Mr. Hartmann took the reins of that board after it failed to balance its budget and an independent report found that trustees had used tax dollars to pay for ineligible expenses, including lingerie, alcohol and Internet gambling.

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The province maintained control over that school board for more than 2 1/2 years.

In Windsor's case, the review found a lack of financial management and reporting, and noted that underutilized schools were putting serious cost pressures on the board.

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