The Toronto District School Board's top-ranking staffer says she will comply with the Ontario government's marching orders and accept a pay cut.
Education director Donna Quan broke her silence on the controversy surrounding her salary on Monday evening, four days after Education Minister Liz Sandals ordered the school board to cut her pay to $272,000 from $289,000.
Ms. Quan told reporters she is willing to do her job for less money during an emergency board meeting, where trustees discussed how to implement a series of demands made by the minister.
"I am well-paid," Ms. Quan said. "I recognize that and I recognize that the public sees that."
Ms. Quan's change of heart follows the release last Thursday of a government-appointed consultant's report outlining a litany of problems at Canada's largest school board, including trustees routinely interfering in day-to-day operations, micromanaging by Ms. Quan and fears among many employees that their e-mails and telephone calls are monitored.
Ms. Sandals warned the board that she could appoint a supervisor to take over its operations if trustees and staff do not make changes. She gave the board until Feb. 13 to cut Ms. Quan's salary to bring it into compliance with the province's wage-freeze legislation, close trustees' offices at the school board's headquarters with the exception of the chair, and develop policies that clearly articulate the roles and responsibilities of trustees and senior staff.
All but one trustee voted on Monday to accept the minister's directives, which vice-chair Sheila Cary-Meagher described as a "punch in the face." School board lawyer Tony Brown said the directives have the force of law, leaving trustees with little choice but to comply.
"We are working with our staff to move forward in a way that addresses the challenges and concerns that have been raised in the report," school-board chair Shaun Chen told reporters.
Just three days before the release of education consultant Margaret Wilson's report last Thursday, Mr. Chen was one of 10 trustees who voted in favour of keeping Ms. Quan's salary intact at $289,000.
The vote followed a three-hour meeting and sharp debate among trustees, with seven voting against the motion.
Controversy began swirling around Ms. Quan's pay last November over her refusal to hand over her employment contract to then-chair Mari Rutka. Trustees saw Ms. Quan's contract for the first time last December, after she agreed to provide a copy to Mr. Chen.
It was another former chair, Chris Bolton, who unilaterally negotiated Ms. Quan's contract. He agreed to pay her a salary of $289,000, despite a letter he received from Ms. Sandals saying she should be paid the same amount as her predecessor, Chris Spence, under the province's pay-freeze legislation.
Asked by reporters on Monday why she hadn't volunteered to take a pay cut earlier, Ms. Quan said trustees needed to have the "conversation" first. She said she has no plans to sue the board over the $17,000 pay cut.
"I think that I'm very privileged," she told reporters. "I don't do this job for the money."
Trustees agreed on Monday to hold four more public meetings before the Feb. 13 deadline. In addition to two routine meetings already scheduled, they will hold a special meeting, at a date not yet set to allow members of the public to comment on Ms. Wilson's report, and another emergency meeting on Feb. 10.
"We have a tremendous task ahead of us over the next three weeks," Mr. Chen said at the meeting.
The school board has been plagued by governance problems for years. However, Ms. Wilson says in her report that the "culture of fear" is becoming more pervasive. She blames trustees for meddling in day-to-day affairs, including having the final say on who gets promoted to principal and vice-principal.
Ms. Sandals said the dysfunction at the board is getting "dangerously close" to the classroom.