With a provincial review of the Toronto District School Board already under way, plans have been announced for a new office to deal with conduct issues, which have publicly plagued the board.
The TDSB said on Wednesday it will appoint an integrity commissioner to oversee conduct on the board and deal with disputes among trustees or behaviour issues. Janet Leiper, the former integrity commissioner for the City of Toronto, is advising the board as it creates the new office. TDSB chair Shaun Chen said the board hopes to have a framework for the position approved in the summer and to fill the role by the fall.
The provincial government appointed a seven-member panel in March, led by former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, to review the TDSB governance structure and recommend changes. The panel is holding consultations until the end of the month. Education Minister Liz Sandals started the assessment in November, 2014, after director of education Donna Quan refused to release her contract to the trustees so they could conduct her performance review.
The push to hire an integrity commissioner follows the release last January of a report by a government-appointed consultant that outlined a litany of problems, including lax governance that allowed a former chair to pursue pet projects, trustees routinely interfering in day-to-day operations, and micromanaging by the top staffer.
The initiative to have an independent office oversee the conduct of trustees dates back to early 2014, when several complaints were made about the behaviour of some trustees. Tensions spilled into the open in March, 2014, when police officers were stationed outside the TDSB boardroom during a meeting to keep trustees from threatening staff and each other.
"When people cross the line on a consistent basis," trustee Shelley Laskin said, "you need to create a process that would impose consequences and modify their behaviour."
Trustee Jerry Chadwick said the goal is to have someone who is independent oversee the board members. As things stand, he said, the school board's ethics committee deals with complaints, a process that is not effective.
"It's hard to police yourself and be judge and jury of your own colleagues," Mr. Chadwick said.
Marit Stiles, one of the 11 new trustees voted in last fall, said she and several other trustees promised in the election campaign to improve public trust in the TDSB, and appointing someone to interpret and enforce the code of conduct is part of that.
"What we really need is an outside, independent office that can advise trustees and make rulings: Say, 'You've broken the code of conduct, and here's what I think the consequences should be,'" Ms. Stiles said.
"We are elected officials, and to be fair, sometimes people make mistakes and they don't even realize they're overstepping. We need clarity."
Now in his third term on the board, Mr. Chen said that while working relationships between trustees seem to have improved, having an established protocol for dealing with problems will help the board, one of the largest in Canada, move forward.
"It's critically important because a public organization of this size needs to have good governance in place," he said.