Some trustees at the Toronto District School Board are calling for greater transparency and accountability in the wake of revelations that their chair was investigated for spending during his tenure as a school principal.
But the internal probe into Chris Bolton – revealed by The Globe and Mail – has also deepened the divide within the splintered school board, with some trustees saying they should not be kept in the dark and others staunchly defending their chair.
TDSB staff investigated donations intended for a Toronto elementary school that Mr. Bolton directed to his own charity before he was elected a trustee in 2003, according to internal reports obtained by The Globe. The reviews raise questions about Mr. Bolton's dual roles more than a decade ago as a school principal and, according to one report, the "alter ego" of his charity.
None of the reports was shown to trustees. A TDSB spokeswoman said on Thursday that the file was closed in 2005 but declined to comment further on a "legal and personnel matter."
Trustee Cathy Dandy said it's not enough to create good accountability policies if elected officials are not prepared to uphold them. Ms. Dandy said she was surprised to learn that the chair at the time, Sheila Ward, did not share a report done in 2005 because she felt there was no proof of wrongdoing.
"As far as I'm concerned, if the chair has it, we should have it," Ms. Dandy said. "They're not the boss; they're simply the facilitator."
Sheila Cary-Meagher, a longtime trustee and a defender of Mr. Bolton, disagreed, saying it is up to staff and the chair to determine if it violates board practice. If there is such a determination, it would be shared with trustees, she said. "If it had been a bad thing, then it should have come to the board," she said. "It was not determined to be bad."
Mr. Bolton also took to the airwaves on Thursday to defend his time as principal of Ryerson Community School. "There was nothing untoward about it," he said in an interview with Newstalk 1010.
The investigators' findings are summarized in a 2005 letter, sent to Mr. Bolton, that accuse him of a breach of fiduciary duty and lay out a series of allegations that include "misappropriation of funds."
Among the findings, Mr. Bolton directed to his charity, Friends of Community Schools, a $50,000 grant that Ryerson received from the Atkinson Foundation, money that was to be used exclusively for the benefit of the school.
The TDSB, with the help of two law firms retained by it, spent four years reviewing the matter but was unable to determine how the proceeds were dispersed. Mr. Bolton told The Globe it was "none of their business" because the donations were made to his charity in trust for Ryerson.
Mr. Bolton also said he did not receive the 2005 letter from law firm Keel Cottrelle, even though it was sent to his home by registered mail.
The letter says Ryerson has "nothing to show" for $8,000 of the Atkinson proceeds. The funding was for a book commemorating the school's 125th anniversary. But the book was never written and the money, intended for disadvantaged students, was never recovered, the documents show.
In the letter addressed to Mr. Bolton, the law firm asks him to repay the $8,000 to the TDSB.
"The TDSB has grave concerns that this grant has been fundamentally misadministered," according to the letter.
Mr. Bolton acknowledged to The Globe that the book was never produced. After a "series of communications back and forth," with the would-be author, he said, the proceeds were designated as a "bad debt."
"The lady involved was an education assistant, and there did not seem to be any way of recovering the funds," he said.
In a letter to the Atkinson Foundation in 2001, Mr. Bolton says the book will be a "hard copy record" of Ryerson's history and its place in the community. Mr. Bolton declined to give the foundation a formal report on how the award was used, said executive director Colette Murphy.