Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals is warning the Toronto District School Board that supervision may be a "necessary measure" and says it fell short in addressing some of her key demands, including tackling badly needed repairs to aging buildings.
Ms. Sandals said on Thursday that she was expecting not just a list of schools in a critical state of disrepair, but an actual road map for fixing their exteriors, electrical systems and structural footings. The TDSB is under pressure to sell schools to raise funds for its capital backlog, which stands at $3-billion.
The TDSB also needs to remove the "veto power" trustees have over hiring school principals and superintendents, Ms. Sandals said, and give the top-ranking staffer, education director Donna Quan, less control over her own performance review.
"I am not appointing an investigator at this time," she said. "However, in light of these concerns, and the board's long history of struggling with these issues, I am not ruling out that it may be a necessary measure."
Under provincial regulations, an investigator would be the first step to potentially bringing in a supervisor – a move that would strip trustees of their powers. However, Ms. Sandals said she is giving trustees and senior staff another chance to address her concerns.
Trustees and senior staff worked around the clock to meet a tight deadline set by the minister to develop plans on a range of issues, including reducing underutilized space – defined as the one in five schools that is less than two-thirds occupied by students – and policies that clearly articulate the roles of trustees and senior staff.
Trustees submitted a report to Ms. Sandals on Feb. 11, two days before the deadline. Ms. Sandals, responding to the report for the first time on Thursday, said the TDSB has made "dramatic improvements" in a number of areas, and singled out new rules governing the audit committee.
But she criticized policies for reviewing the education director's job performance as "unorthodox." Ms. Quan approves which staff talk to the person conducting the review and approves the findings. "Lots of us would like that kind of an appraisal," the minister said.
Several trustees expressed frustration with the minister's edict to curb their powers by banning them from having any say over the hiring of superintendents and principals, saying it leaves Ms. Quan with too much autonomy. Without any involvement by trustees in the hiring practices, said trustee Chris Tonks, there would be no checks and balances in the system.
"I think that [Ms. Sandals] has tilted the balance of power too far in favour of the bureaucracy," he said.
Trustee Shelley Laskin said that if Ms. Sandals remains concerned about the school board, she should look at the staff side as well as at trustees.
An example of Ms. Quan flexing her muscles, trustees said, are unilateral changes she made to the structure of the senior management team.
Ms. Quan informed trustees in an e-mail this week that she has realigned the roles and responsibilities of the three associate directors who report directly to her. The changes follow the departure of two associate directors, Gen Ling Chang and Lou Vavougios, first reported by globeandmail.com.
In her e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Quan says Angelos Bacopoulos, executive officer responsible for facilities services, has been promoted to interim associate director of facilities.
Executive superintendent Christopher Usih has been promoted to interim associate director, responsible for both student achievement and employee services. Under the former management structure, Ms. Chang was responsible for student achievement and Mr. Vavougios was responsible for human resources.
Mr. Tonks said he is unclear why Ms. Sandals has criticized the TDSB on its capital backlog, as trustees last week approved a plan that calls for conducting community consultations on 68 schools over the next three years.
"If it's selling more properties," he said, "she should say so."
Ms. Sandals asked where the plan is for approaching the long list of repairs that need to be done. "They're maintaining too many old buildings, quite frankly," she said.