In her final hours as chair of the Toronto District School Board, Mari Rutka sent an e-mail to trustees: Despite repeated efforts, she writes, she failed to obtain a copy of the employment contract for the board's top-ranking staffer, leaving confusion swirling over how much education director Donna Quan is paid.
According to the e-mail Ms. Rutka sent on Sunday, marked private and confidential and obtained by The Globe and Mail, the former chair's last-ditch attempt to get answers resulted in further stonewalling at Canada's largest school board. The e-mail says all Ms. Rutka received was a draft of Ms. Quan's contract, which showed her salary as $315,000 a year, in direct contravention of an edict from Ontario's Education Minister. The TDSB has said she is paid $289,000.
Ms. Quan is accountable to trustees as their sole employee, and is responsible for ensuring that information flows between staff and the board's 22 elected members. The fact that Ms. Rutka and some other trustees could not use their authority to compel Ms. Quan to release her contract in its final form reveals deep divisions on the old board, where many were staunch allies of the director, school board sources say.
This week, Shaun Chen and Sheila Cary-Meagher, who have defended Ms. Quan against her critics among the trustees – were elected chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the new board. And Ms. Quan has now said she will release her contract to Mr. Chen.
Mr. Chen said in a memo to trustees on Wednesday obtained by The Globe that Ms. Quan wrote to him and Ms. Cary-Meagher, "expressing her willingness" to move forward with her performance review and offering to provide copies of her contract as well as those for two of her predecessors.
Mr. Chen could not explain why Ms. Quan has changed her mind. Ms. Quan declined to be interviewed. TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said the circumstances changed, but did not elaborate on why she decided to release her contract.
Trustee Chris Tonks said he was puzzled by the fact that Ms. Quan withheld her contract until now. "I'm left with more questions than answers, to tell you the truth," he said.
School board sources point out that Ms. Quan's willingness might be related to the Ontario's government appointment of education consultant Margaret Wilson to investigate issues at the board.
"With Margaret Wilson standing there, do you think she would withhold it," one source said. "Of course she won't."
Education Minister Liz Sandals intervened at the board last week after tensions came to a head over Ms. Quan's refusal to release her employment contract to trustees, which prevented them from reviewing her performance and raised questions about whether her salary complies with Ontario's wage-freeze legislation. Ms. Quan is scheduled to meet with Ms. Wilson on Friday.
Mr. Bird reiterated that Ms. Quan is paid $289,000 a year – $17,000 more than her predecessor, Chris Spence. Her compensation was negotiated by former chair Chris Bolton on behalf of the board. The amount contravenes the province's wage-freeze legislation for public sector workers, according to a letter from Ms. Sandals to Mr. Bolton.
In her e-mail to trustees, Ms. Rutka outlines her frustrations trying to get the contract, which she says began in June when she succeeded Mr. Bolton as chair after his resignation. She says she went to Ms. Quan at that time when she could not find a copy of the contract in her office. Mr. Bird said Ms. Rutka was advised to discuss the contract with the lawyer who represented the board on Ms. Quan's contract.
It was only in late November, Ms. Rutka says, that the director's office provided her with the name and contact information for the lawyer, Michael Sherrard.
On Nov. 27, one day after she chaired her final board meeting, Ms. Rutka says Mr. Sherrard e-mailed her a draft of the contract from October, 2013, when Ms. Quan was appointed. The contract stated that she was to be paid an annual salary of $315,000, subject to approval by the Minister of Education. Mr. Sherrard declined comment.
Ms. Rutka also declined to comment, saying in an e-mail to The Globe that the minister has appointed Ms. Wilson to "review serious concerns and issues within the TDSB."
Mr. Tonks said he and many of his colleagues felt the head of the TDSB should be the highest-paid school board director in the province. "I was never opposed to paying her $315,000," Mr. Tonks said. "The issue was, what was the minister going to say. It was totally out of our hands."
He said trustees gave instructions about the salary to Mr. Bolton at the October meeting, and were left with the impression that he followed them. It is unclear why Mr. Bolton negotiated a higher amount for Ms. Quan than her predecessor got.
Ms. Sandals told Mr. Bolton in a letter dated Jan. 10, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe, that Ms. Quan's compensation was to match that of Mr. Spence. There was no further communication from the minister's office, a spokeswoman said.
Mr. Bolton did not respond to an e-mail sent by The Globe on Wednesday.