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TDSB accepts provincial government’s help with budget issues

Education director Chris Spence: ‘This is a step in the right direction.’

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board has decided to accept the help of the Ontario government in tackling its operational and fiscal struggles.

Despite a recent scathing report that found a lack of oversight and a problem with overspending at the board, trustees were reluctant to hand over any control. They indicated last week that they were inclined to allow a provincially appointed team to advise them on improving their embattled maintenance department and eliminating a $50-million capital deficit, but didn't commit until Wednesday night.

"This is a step in the right direction," education director Chris Spence said.

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Some trustees raised concerns that the report, compiled by consultants at PwC, made assumptions that changes to employee contracts could be made.

"The data that they've used is very questionable, the language they've used is very questionable," trustee Howard Goodman said.

Others worried that the team would be the first step toward a full takeover by the Ministry of Education.

"There is nothing in this offer from the ministry that is there for the board, it is there for the ministry to take control," said trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

A majority of trustees felt that the board could use the help in the wake of embarrassing headlines this year concerning overspending on everything from routine maintenance to major construction projects.

"We have serious issues," trustee Shelley Laskin said. "To refuse an informal offer of help no matter who it is from and no matter what the circumstances are, I simply can't understand it."

Minister of Education Laurel Broten said she was pleased with the decision.

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"Taxpayers expect us to work together and ensure that the board is doing everything it can to deliver the best possible services to students and families," she said in an e-mailed statement.

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