The new chair of the Toronto District School Board has promised the board will be more open after months of secrecy and infighting that prompted Premier Kathleen Wynne's government to step in.
A new board of trustees elected Shaun Chen, a Phd student in social justice education, as chair Monday evening by a secret ballot. Longtime trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher was elected vice-chair.
Mr. Chen told trustees in his nomination speech that he wants to be a fair and transparent voice for the board. He added that private discussions among trustees should be out of necessity and matters need to be aired in public.
Public confidence in the system, he said, should be restored and that would require mending relationships between trustees, and trustees and staff.
"Without the foundation of trust, we cannot move forward as a system," he said.
The new TDSB board, which includes 11 newly elected trustees, will have to deal with the fallout of a provincial probe and the government's actions.
An ongoing investigation by The Globe and Mail has revealed a toxic relationship between the board's top staffer, education director Donna Quan, and several former trustees who have asked questions about controversial payments and partnerships.
Education Minister Liz Sandals intervened late last month after tensions came to a head over Ms. Quan's refusal to provide her employment contract, preventing trustees from reviewing her performance and raising questions about whether her compensation complies with Ontario's wage-free legislation. Controversy has swirled around the board for several months over decisions by staff revealed in The Globe, including a $200,000 payment to a food-services company and education partnerships in Asia.
The government appointed education consultant Margaret Wilson to examine operational issues at Canada's largest board. She will report her findings by the end of this month, at which point the government will conduct a broader review into the structure of the board, including whether it is too big to function properly. Ms. Sandals has raised the idea of placing the board under supervision, which would strip trustees of their power.
Sources at the school board say that the lack of transparency was most apparent during former chair Chris Bolton's time.
He resigned five months before his term expired, and trustees were left to deal with the fallout of issues such as the Confucius Institute, which is subsidized and controlled by the government of China. Trustees were inundated with e-mails and phone calls from concerned parents as they struggled to learn about a deal unilaterally negotiated by Mr. Bolton. The TDSB officially severed its ties to the Institute in October.
Both Mr. Chen and Ms. Cary-Meagher were supporters of Mr. Bolton.