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Queen’s Park will not intervene with Toronto District School Board

Chris Bolton, chair of the Toronto District School Board, says he hoped for provincial support to help calm infighting.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The chair of the Toronto District School Board says he is disappointed the provincial government will not intervene to calm the infighting among elected trustees and staff at Canada's largest school district.

The TDSB has resisted any involvement from Queen's Park. But Chris Bolton said the Minister of Education should consider providing a mediator to settle disputes after revelations in recent days of a culture of intimidation and bullying at the board. Mr. Bolton has requested a police presence at Wednesday's meeting to keep staff and trustees safe from one another.

"I just get the feeling that they are washing their hands of the whole situation," Mr. Bolton said of the ministry. "I would have hoped that we would have a little support on this."

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But the ministry and some trustees disagree. A spokesman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said the province has no plans to get involved.

"School boards are locally elected and are responsible for their communities, and we expect the TDSB will work together to do what's in the best interest of students and resolve any concerns they may have," spokesman Mike Semansky wrote in an e-mail.

Another trustee, Chris Tonks, said the board needs to resolve its problems without provincial involvement. He said many of his colleagues are passionate about issues, but admits they sometimes go beyond acceptable workplace decorum. A solution to bad behaviour could be docking pay, Mr. Tonks said. Trustees in the province earn $6,000 to $26,000 a year.

Mr. Bolton's comments come just ahead of what is expected to be a more-raucous-than-usual board meeting on Wednesday. If the meeting agenda is followed, trustees are expected to pass a balanced budget. It would be the first time the TDSB has balanced its books since it was created through amalgamation in 1998.

Overshadowing the budget is an incident last week that prompted the board's director of education to write a letter levelling accusations that TDSB trustees created a work environment in which staff felt threatened and intimidated.

Mr. Bolton said he has received half a dozen such complaints in the past six months. Trustees are expected to discuss their behaviour on Wednesday.

The TDSB is unlike any other board in the province. Two recent audit reports have found that trustees overstep the boundaries of their posts and are involved in permits, procurements and staffing. A report in December described a "culture of fear" at the school board. Staff have been pressed by trustees not to follow policies, and fear losing their jobs if they disobey trustees' orders.

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The incident that pushed Donna Quan, the director of education, to write a letter involved long-time trustee Howard Goodman. Last Wednesday, after a committee meeting, Mr. Goodman confronted Ms. Quan over unpaid fees to the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA), an umbrella organization that represents secular boards across the province. The TDSB, Mr. Goodman said, had directed staff to pay the outstanding fees of about $382,000. Staff failed to do so, despite phone calls and e-mails from OPSBA. Mr. Goodman is a vice-president at OPSBA.

Ms. Quan said in an interview this week that the fees have not been paid because another trustee put forward a motion to remove the board from OPSBA. That motion was defeated at a recent committee meeting, and has to be brought to the board on Wednesday for ratification before any fees are paid, Ms. Quan said.

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