Two Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustees are in the running to replace outgoing chair Chris Bolton, representing starkly different visions for the board's future.
Under the leadership of its vice-chair, Mari Rutka, several trustees said Canada's largest school board would signal a readiness to break with its controversial past and become more open and transparent. Sheila Ward, an ally and staunch defender of Mr. Bolton, would represent the status quo, they said.
Trustees will elect a new chair in a secret ballot at a meeting on Wednesday at which they will also discuss the fate of the TDSB's fledgling Confucius Institute, an initiative led by Mr. Bolton, who resigned suddenly last Friday, five months before his term as a trustee was to expire.
If Ms. Ward wins, one trustee said, "it will be a continuation of Mr. Bolton's legacy." Ms. Ward helped defeat a move by a group of trustees last month to address Mr. Bolton's conduct publicly after The Globe and Mail revealed he was the subject of spending probes during his tenure as a school principal.
Ms. Ward, who previously served as chair, did not share with other trustees a report prepared for TDSB staff that accused Mr. Bolton of putting his own interests ahead of those of Ryerson Community School, where he was principal more than a decade ago. She also refused to meet last year with Ernst & Young LLP, which conducted a forensic audit into the TDSB that raised red flags about the lack of rules requiring trustees to declare potential conflicts of interest. The Globe has reported that Mr. Bolton did not disclose his potential conflict regarding a charitable organization he founded that received funding from a provincial program operated by the TDSB. Ms. Rutka believes in "transparency and openness," said another trustee, who asked not to be named. Ms. Rutka tabled a motion last week calling on all trustees to investigate concerns about censorship in the Confucius Institute by the Chinese government. The TDSB was set to roll out its Confucius Institute with Mandarin classes for kindergarten students in September. Trustees will vote Wednesday on whether to suspend the partnership with the Chinese government, which is spreading its reach into Canadian classrooms through the institutes.
Ms. Rutka said in an interview that she met on Monday with about 30 community members who have expressed concerns about the TDSB's Confucius Institute. She also said she spent most of Tuesday answering phone calls and e-mails on the issue. Trustees have received very little information about the TDSB's agreement with the Chinese government. Ms. Rutka said she wants to know how much ideology can be written into language learning. "At this point, I just feel I need a whole lot more information," she said.